The Right to Beg: Panhandling and the First Amendment
This week, two beggars are suing the city of Springfield, Illinois claiming the city’s ban on panhandling violates their First Amendment rights.
They filed the complaint stating that Springfield authorities are ticketing and sometimes arresting “peaceful” panhandlers who are not bothering passing pedestrians. In the lawsuit, a statement says “The City has openly expressed hostility towards panhandlers and a desire to rid the downtown historic district of their presence.”
In 2007, Springfield’s City Council banned panhandling in the city’s commercial downtown district within a 12 block radius. The order permits people to beg for money, as long as they do not verbally ask or solicit money thorough entertainment, such as music or dancing. People who violate this ordinance face a $100 fine and 40 hours of community service. The plaintiffs claim they have received tickets and have been jailed for begging, despite their claim to not interfering or harassing passersby. Another plaintiff says the she does not verbally ask for donations, and only says “God bless you” after receiving a donation.
In a previous blog about a statement by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, we examined the First Amendment. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is in place to protect the freedom of speech, of press, of association, of assembly, and of petition to thoroughly protect every American citizen’s right to freedom of expression.
Lawsuits defending the right to panhandle have become a frequent occurrence as more jurisdictions are cracking down on panhandling. Courts in California, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, and Utah are some of the states that have enforced strict panhandling laws. Issues with the First Amendment and peoples’ right to speak freely has come under fire for centuries, and it appears to continue to be brought up in courtrooms on a regular basis.
What do you think about jurisdictions becoming stricter with panhandlers? Do you think the plaintiffs will win the case?
In other related news, a banned food truck sues over First Amendment rights as well.