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People ex rel Ryan v. World Chruch of the Creator

November 21, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

Docket No. 89780-Agenda 22-March 2001


The issue in this case is whether the Solicitation for Charity Act (Solicitation Act) (225 ILCS 460/0.01 through 23 (West 1998)) is unconstitutionally vague on its face, as violative of the first and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amends. I, XIV). The circuit court of Cook County held the statute unconstitutional and dismissed the Attorney General's complaint against defendants for failure to register under the Solicitation Act. The Attorney General appealed directly to this court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 603. We now reverse the circuit court's judgment.


The Solicitation Act requires every "charitable organization," with exceptions not relevant here, that solicits or intends to solicit contributions from persons within Illinois to file with the Attorney General a registration statement providing specified information. 225 ILCS 460/2(a) (West 1998). The Solicitation Act defines "[c]haritable organization" in pertinent part as:

"[A] benevolent, philanthropic, patriotic, or eleemosynary person or one purporting to be such which solicits and collects funds for charitable purposes ***." 225 ILCS 460/1(a) (West 1998).

The Solicitation Act defines "[c]haritable purpose" as "[a]ny charitable, benevolent, philanthropic, patriotic, or eleemosynary purpose." 225 ILCS 460/1(f) (West 1998).

Annual reports must be filed with the Attorney General setting forth detailed information concerning receipts and expenses. 225 ILCS 460/4 (West 1998). When the Attorney General has reason to believe that a charitable organization is operating in violation of the Solicitation Act, he may seek an injunction prohibiting the organization from continuing to solicit or collect funds. 225 ILCS 460/9(c) (West 1998). In addition, any organization that violates the Solicitation Act shall, at the request of the Attorney General, forfeit any monies received through solicitation (225 ILCS 460/9(h) (West 1998)) and may be subject to punitive damages (225 ILCS 460/9(g) (West 1998)). Persons and organizations failing to register under the Solicitation Act or whose registration is canceled by the Attorney General for violation of the Solicitation Act are subject "to injunction, to removal, to account, and to appropriate other relief before the circuit court exercising chancery jurisdiction." 225 ILCS 460/2(i) (West 1998). In addition, the court "shall" impose a civil penalty of not less than $500 and not more than $1,000 against such person or organization. 225 ILCS 460/2(i) (West 1998). The Solicitation Act also provides civil and criminal penalties for professional fund-raisers found to be in violation of the Solicitation Act. 225 ILCS 460/6(g), (h) (West 1998).

On July 14, 1999, the Attorney General filed a complaint against defendants, The World Church of the Creator (World Church) and Matthew Hale. The World Church is an organization that exists, according to a copy of its literature attached to the complaint, to promote the survival, expansion, and advancement of the white race. Count I sought a declaratory judgment that the World Church was a charitable organization subject to the Solicitation Act. It was alleged that the World Church held itself out to be a religious not-for-profit unincorporated association and that it was managed and controlled by Hale. The complaint alleged that defendants sought members and solicited payment of membership dues and money from the general public through an Internet website and through flyers offering for sale books, materials, and merchandise. In these solicitations, defendants suggested that purchases would benefit the not-for-profit cause of the World Church, thus giving it the appearance of a charitable organization as defined in the Solicitation Act and subjecting it to the statute's registration requirements. Count I requested that the World Church be declared to be engaged in charitable solicitation of the public and, therefore, subject to the Solicitation Act. Count II of the complaint requested a finding that defendants had violated the Solicitation Act and an injunction prohibiting defendants from further soliciting of funds and from disbursing or transferring any assets without court approval. The prayer for relief also requested that the court freeze the assets of defendants, order them to account for the funds collected from their solicitation on behalf of the World Church, and impose a $1,000 fine.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1998)), claiming that the Solicitation Act is unconstitutionally vague on its face, in that it fails to adequately define the terms "charitable organization" and "charitable purpose."

In a memorandum opinion filed on February 8, 2000, the circuit court granted defendants' motion. Relying on federal cases, the court found that the definition of "charitable organization" in the Solicitation Act does not guide the Attorney General in determining which organizations are subject to the provisions of the Solicitation Act. The court stated that the terms "benevolent, philanthropic, patriotic, or eleemosynary" used to define "charitable organization" are themselves undefined and so generic as to fail to provide adequate notice as to which organizations may be subject to the Solicitation Act. The court also expressed concern as to the Attorney General's unbridled discretion in determining which organizations are subject to the Solicitation Act and the potential threat to protected first amendment activity. The court determined that the Solicitation Act does not meet the heightened standard of precision required of legislative enactments that regulate the first amendment right to freedom of speech. The circuit court denied the Attorney General's motion to reconsider and this direct appeal followed.


All statutes are presumed to be constitutionally valid. People v. Sanders, 182 Ill. 2d 524, 528 (1998). It is the court's duty to construe a statute in a manner upholding its constitutionality, if such a construction is reasonably possible. City of Chicago v. Morales, 177 Ill. 2d 440, 448 (1997). We review de novo the circuit court's order granting defendants' section 2-615 motion to dismiss the Attorney General's complaint (Neade v. Portes, 193 Ill. 2d 433, 439 (2000)), as well as the court's determination of the Act's unconstitutionality (People v. Maness, 191 Ill. 2d 478, 483 (2000)).

It is well settled that the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech encompasses solicitation of funds. Village of Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 444 U.S. 620, 633, 63 L. Ed. 2d 73, 85, 100 S. Ct. 826, 834 (1980). Defendants argue that, because the Solicitation Act regulates speech, it must meet a heightened standard of precision. See National Ass'n for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 432-33, 9 L. Ed. 2d 405, 417-18, 83 S. Ct. 328, 337-38 (1963); Hynes v. Mayor & Council, 425 U.S. 610, 620, 48 L. Ed. 2d 243, 253, 96 S. Ct. 1755, 1760 (1976) (stricter standards of permissible statutory vagueness may be applied to a statute that has a " `potentially inhibiting effect on speech,' " quoting Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147, 151, 4 L. Ed. 2d 205, 210, 80 S. Ct. 215, 217-18 (1959)). However, not all laws that regulate speech are subject to this higher standard. "Content neutral regulation of protected speech is subject to `an intermediate level of scrutiny.' " American Target Advertising, Inc. v. Giani, 199 F.3d 1241, 1247 (10th Cir. 2000), quoting Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Federal Communications Comm'n, 512 U.S. 622, 642, 129 L. Ed. 2d 497, 517, 114 S. Ct. 2445, 2459 (1994). In determining whether a regulation is content neutral, the main inquiry is whether the state has adopted the regulation because of its disagreement with the content of the message sought to be conveyed. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791, 105 L. Ed. 2d 661, 675, 109 S. Ct. 2746, 2754 (1989). Government regulation of expressive ...

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