STONE PARK – A group of nuns who've been praying for a strip club next door to close and then sued when it didn't, on Wednesday did something that anyone who went to Catholic school could have predicted: They marched right over there to let everyone know they mean business.
A dozen nuns said a prayer and then set off from their suburban Chicago convent, leading a group of about 30 residents and their children in a march to Club Allure Chicago in the suburb of Stone Park.
"Our sisters are trying to pray, and you just hear the thump, thump, thump" of loud music coming from the strip club, said Sister Noemia Silva of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo Scalabrinians.
It took the marchers just five minutes to reach the site. That proximity, the nuns say, means serious disruption to their way of life.
Resident Alfredo Calderon, 68, joined the protest for the same reason, saying he even wrapped a garbage bag over his window to block the light he says comes from the club. Other residents said they have heard fights in the parking lot and felt unsafe in their own community.
Club managing partner Sean O'Brien said the club is in full compliance with the law, has security staff and makes an effort to keep things calm around the venue. He said there is no way people could be disturbed by noise from inside the club.
"We like to think that we do as much for the community as they do," he said of the convent, explaining that they employ local staff.
"I completely understand them being unhappy; it's a morality issue," O'Brien said.
The convent's legal argument, though, has nothing to do with religious beliefs.
The lawsuit filed last week against the owners of the club and the village of Stone Park claims the club violates Illinois zoning laws requiring a 1,000-foot buffer between adult entertainment venues and places of worship or schools.
"It is a moral issue and it's also a legal issue," Silva said. "It is a moral issue because as religious women it goes against everything we believe. It also tears at the fabric of the community. Legally, they didn't respect the thousand-foot buffer of the state law."
From Stone Park's perspective, Club Allure was allowed to open last fall for the simple reason that the tiny village west of Chicago had no legal way to stop it.
Village Attorney Dean Krone said the law in suburban Cook County is even more restrictive than the state zoning laws, because it forbids such establishments to be within one mile of churches and schools. The problem with the law is that it runs headlong into U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have made it clear that such businesses "are a form of speech protected under the First Amendment," he said.
Krone acknowledges the situation has put Stone Park in the "somewhat uncomfortable" position of taking the side of a strip club instead of a convent. But, he said, the law is clear and the club's owner has taken steps to minimize its impact on neighbors, from sound-proofing it to providing plenty of parking to keep patrons off neighboring streets.
But the nuns say that failed to insulate them from what they see as some pretty nasty habits. According to the lawsuit, that includes the sound they can hear at all hours of the night coming from the club as well as empty bottles, broken glass and even used condoms that litter the area.
"We are doing what we need to do," Silva said.