In Glen Ellyn, IL, just outside of Chicago, the Village Board voted on Monday, Dec. 8, on a request by a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses to place portable brochure rack on a public village sidewalk for evangelistic purposes. However, the board rejected the request in a 4-2 vote.
The village currently bars any commercial signage and structures, both temporary or permanent, on public sidewalks without approval from the Village Board. But street ministry is also legal under free speech laws.
The local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses originally used the Glen Ellyn Metro station for evangelization practices, including the use of a portable rack filled with printed brochures. The station later revoked their permission, which prompted the religious group to approach the village.
Under the Witnesses’ proposal, the group would set up their brochure rack in front of the Patio Restaurant for two days a month for an initial term of three months.
However, the trustees of the Village Board said that a public sidewalk wasn’t the right place to place an evangelistic cart. One of the trustees, Tim O’Shea, said the rack would function like a sign, and another, Jim Burket, said he wasn’t a fan of placing items on public sidewalks.
Trustee Pete Ladesic said he had no problem with the group’s evangelism but didn’t want a brochure rack on the public sidewalk. He suggested that the hall’s leaders should find a privately owned sidewalk in the village, so they wouldn’t have to seek the board’s approval.
However, trustee Tim Elliott supported the measure and said that it would provide the village with a low-risk opportunity to evaluate the village’s ordinance on such signs and structures, and that it would only be for two days a week for three months.
“If staff says this creates a firestorm of protests and issues and traffic,” Elliott said, “then we’ve learned our lesson, and if this applicant or others come to us in the future, we can say no.”
None of the officials from Kingdom Hall were present for the meeting.
This incident isn’t the only recent controversy over print advertising. Last month, Autumn Chapman from Spokane Valley, WA, said that the U.S. Military sent her two developmentally disabled foster children recruitment letters and other informational materials by mail. The recruiters had obtained the family’s address in part due to No Child Left Behind legislation, which allows military recruiters the ability to access school records but not medical records.
Recruiters apologized for the mistake, and Chapman said she would fill out the paperwork necessary to get the kids removed from the recruiters’ lists.