Those Who Took the Veil vs. Neighbors Who Take It All Off

STONE PARK, Ill. — It was a muggy afternoon, but the Sisters of St. Charles were wearing turtlenecks, long-sleeved habits and stockings as they gathered next to a microphone and an unsavory stretch of four-lane highway. They stood on the sidewalk below a billboard picturing a blonde who appeared to be wearing only eyeliner and a come-hither look: a jumbo-size invitation to Club Allure, a 20,000-square-foot strip club that is a newcomer to the neighborhood.

The nuns want to see the strip club gone. Last week, they filed a lawsuit against the owners of Club Allure, which opened last year just over the backyard fence from the quiet convent where close to two dozen nuns live.

The nuns aired a long list of grievances: They have been forced to endure loud, pulsating music at night that interrupts their prayers; blinking neon lights that are visible from outside the club; and trash littering the area, including used syringes, empty whiskey bottles and discarded condoms. They also charge that the Village of Stone Park, which is named in the lawsuit, illegally permitted the club to be built despite an Illinois requirement of a 1,000-foot buffer between adult entertainment businesses and places of worship.

“It’s not respectful,” said Sister Noemia Silva, one of the nuns who is leading the charge against Club Allure, her voice rasping from exhaustion. “We’ve tried everything else for two years while they were planning it. They shouldn’t be there. Enough is enough.”

The proprietors of the club insist that their presence is perfectly legal and that they have no reason to leave. Sean O’Brien, a managing partner, watched the nuns from the club’s nearly empty parking lot on Wednesday, taking nervous sips from a bottle of Fiji water.

“I grew up Catholic, so I do understand all of this,” said Mr. O’Brien, 40. “They make us out to be monsters. But we treat the girls who work here like daughters.” (He then admitted to feeling “a little bit” like a bad Catholic.)

Robert Itzkow, a lawyer for the club, said the nuns’ charges of loud noise and bothersome lights were “an absolute fabrication.”

“Our presence bothers them on an ideological level,” Mr. Itzkow said, adding that the Thomas More Society, a religious nonprofit firm that is providing legal services to the nuns, “will have about as much success with this as they did attacking same-sex marriage in Illinois.”

The dispute in this slightly run-down, working-class enclave just west of Chicago has drawn the attention of neighbors, many of whom have rallied to the nuns’ side, complaining about late-night noise and increased traffic. Several of them said there were plenty of strip clubs in the area already, pointing to Scores, a club down the street that promises “Chicago’s best exotic dancers.”

On Wednesday, a handful of neighbors and community activists trailed behind several nuns as they marched down a side street from their convent to the entrance of Club Allure, where they faced local news cameras and held handwritten signs reading, “Ya basta de strip clubs en Stone Park” (“Enough already with strip clubs in Stone Park”) and “Allure is bad for Stone Park.”

“I know it breaks their heart over there,” said Boyd Pletcher, 61, who lives in a brick house across the alley from the convent. “This is a peaceful neighborhood. People are trying to raise their families, and they’ve got adult entertainment to deal with? It’s not right.”

The drama over Club Allure goes back to 2009, when Mr. Itzkow applied to the Village of Stone Park, asking for a property to be rezoned so that he could open a strip club there. The village denied his application, in part because of the property’s proximity to the convent, said Dean W. Krone, the lawyer for Stone Park.

Mr. Itzkow then sued the village, prompting it to spend more than $200,000 in legal fees fighting him off. Eventually, the village settled the lawsuit and in 2010 agreed to allow Mr. Itzkow to build his strip club.

It was six months later, in early 2011, that the village received a letter from the nuns next door. “The letter said they were very upset to learn that there was a club being built next door to them,” Mr. Krone said.

Mr. Krone discovered that the village, using Cook County records, had sent a letter notifying the nuns about a public hearing to the wrong address, so they did not know about the plans for the club. By the time the nuns sent the letter to Stone Park, it was too late, he said.

Stone Park officials claim that the state requirement invoked by the nuns in their lawsuit actually requires adult entertainment facilities to be at least one mile from places of worship, a law they say is unconstitutional, since it would effectively prohibit the businesses in the tiny village of Stone Park.

Mr. O’Brien insisted that the extensive soundproofing in the club drowned out the music. Mr. Krone said there had been only seven complaints to the police department regarding the club, which attracts 30 to 200 people on any given night. One complaint involved a fight that had spilled out to the parking area.

The nuns said in their lawsuit that the presence of the club had taken a toll on them, particularly the nuns who are in their 90s and no longer active.

“The impact on the aged and retired sisters, however, has been cause for sleep deprivation, emotional upset, and health risks and perils,” the lawsuit said, adding that a garden tended by the nuns had been “overshadowed from time to time by the hulking mass of the huge strip club just a few feet away.”

Some neighbors who attended the rally on Wednesday said they had heard stories of fights and violence around the club. “I don’t want the place in our community,” said Estela Vara, 42. “It’s not good for my children to see it there.”

Tom Brejcha, a lawyer at the Thomas More Society, said he expected to prevail in court.

“The sisters’ position is, if they want to have a strip club, fine,” he said. “But let them put it in their own backyard.”