The nuns are not done.
The Roman Catholic sisters whose convent fence-line is mere inches from a flashy new strip club in Stone Park were unable to prevent the business from opening last year.
But they haven't given up the fight, and are signaling they plan to ask help from a higher power – the Cook County Circuit Court – in shutting down the establishment.
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An attorney for the nuns said a lawsuit will be filed very soon against the club, called Club Allure Chicago, and Stone Park municipal government, which allowed the topless venue to open and operate at 3801 W. Lake St.
One of the main arguments is expected to center on a provision of state law that, with exceptions, prohibits such businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of a place of worship. The convent has three chapels inside that perimeter, although they're technically in Melrose Park.
To that end, Melrose Park's village board voted Monday night to join in the suit with the nuns, who belong to a Catholic religious order called the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, and some community members. They will all be represented by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based "public interest law firm" that handles many religious-oriented cases.
"The bottom-line is you can't put one of these [adult-use establishments] within 1,000 feet of a place of worship, this is what the law says, and . . . Stone Park allowed the strip joint to open and gave them permits," Thomas More attorney Peter Breen said Monday. "Stone Park is not protecting its residents, and shame on the strip joint owners for putting it next to a convent."
Club Allure Chicago / BGA photo
Stone Park Mayor Ben Mazzulla described the prospect of a lawsuit as "an old story, no comment." Village Attorney Dean Krone said the applicable state law is unconstitutional "as applied to Stone Park."
Sean O'Brien, managing partner of Allure, said in an interview last week he does not want a legal battle, but if a suit is filed, "I guess . . . it is what it is."
He said club owners have thought a lot about potential legal issues and believe they're on firm legal footing. He said while he understands the moral objections of the nuns, the club has tried to be a good neighbor, doing what it can to limit noise, lights and litter – as well as buy supplies and hire locally.
"I'm not here to hurt them in any way," O'Brien said, describing Club Allure as a non-traditional "gentlemen's club" with good food, and shows with comedians, musicians and trapeze-type acts – in addition to semi-nude women and, just recently, male dance acts.
Aside from the nuns' legal objections, Sister Maria Noemia Silva said a central problem is what the club stands for. The convent property includes a building for nuns in training, and another building for retired nuns. In that retirement home, "their chapel looks outside and the first thing you see is the strip club," Silva said.
The nuns' garden is just feet from the club.
"We're fighting this fight because we want [a] safe environment, healthy environment here in Stone Park and we have children, you know, who go through this, and they're exposed to this, and that's not our values as a community," Silva said. Adult entertainment "degrades the human person."
The club originally was slated to be called "Get It!"
An attorney for the venue, Robert Itzkow, said, "The business is legally constituted, . . . it's been open for a significant period of time. It presents no real problems for anyone. . . . It probably has less police calls than the nuns."
"If the nuns want to start a dialogue with us about what it is about us they dislike, we'd be very happy to listen to them," Itzkow added. "They're not going to like us – I understand that. . . . But we do want to be good neighbors."
Overall, there are roughly 20 nuns or would-be nuns living on the convent grounds, which are partly in Stone Park.
The nuns have heard rumors another strip club is in the works near the convent in Stone Park, but Mazzulla said nobody as of yet has come forward to his administration proposing that.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association's Robert Herguth, with NBC 5's Phil Rogers. They can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9030.