A publishing company hit with a $350 fine after someone taped a movie poster to a South Side lamppost has taken the city of Chicago to court.
The poster advertised the online and in-person premieres of the film “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.”
RCP Publications Inc., which streamed the movie for free on its website, says it doesn’t know who stuck the poster on the lamppost.
But Chicago police ticketed the not-for-profit corporation for violating a city ordinance that prohibits posting any commercial advertisement on lampposts, fire hydrants, telephone poles, traffic lights and a slew of other surfaces.
Under the ordinance, the person or entity whose goods or services is being advertised is presumed to be responsible for the ad being posted.
An administrative judge rejected RCP’s challenge to the ticket and ordered it to pay a penalty of $350.
RCP then turned to the federal courts, filing a lawsuit last week alleging the ordinance restricts speech on the basis of its content.
RCP is seeking a declaration that the ordinance violates the First Amendment.
RCP brought the suit as a class action on behalf of all persons ticketed or fined under the ordinance.
RCP’s attorneys, sole practitioners Mark G. Weinberg and Adele D. Nicholas, said they will seek a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the ordinance while the case is pending.
The suit will test the limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this year in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015), Weinberg and Nicholas said.
While splitting on the reasons for its decision, the high court unanimously struck down an ordinance that set stricter limits on temporary directional signs — in that case, signs directing people to religious services conducted by a church with no permanent location — than for political or ideological signs.
How far municipalities may go in placing content-based restrictions on signs is “up in the air” following the Reed decision, Weinberg said.
But even with that uncertainty, Nicholas contended, Chicago’s ordinance is unconstitutional because it does not have a reasonable relationship to any compelling government interest.
“Because it allows so many different kinds of signs to be hung up,” the ordinance doesn't prevent littering or improve aesthetics, Nicholas said.
And she contended the ordinance likely should not have been applied to the poster advertising “Revolution and Religion” in the first place.
“It’s questionable whether it was a commercial ad,” she said, because the movie was shown for free.
The city did not have an immediate comment.
RCP publishes books as well as the Revolution Newspaper, the weekly paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. RCP also offers movies, pamphlets, articles and books on its website.
In March, RCP hosted the online premiere of “Revolution and Religion.” The movie features a discussion between party chairman Bob Avakian and political activist Cornel West.
The fundraising organization BA Everywhere Committee — the “BA” stands for Bob Avakian — hosted an in-person premiere of the movie.
BA Everywhere distributed a poster advertising both premieres to supporters.
Someone taped a copy of the poster to a streetlight pole at 5701 S. Kimbark Ave.
RCP received a notice of an ordinance violation from the city in July and was found liable for that violation last month.
In its suit, RCP argues the ordinance violates the First Amendment by applying different rules to messages deemed to be commercial speech and other types of messages.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly.
The case is RCP Publications Inc. v. City of Chicago, No. 15 C 11398.