Youngstown City Council Must Repeal Law Violating First Amendment, Says ACLU
YOUNGSTOWN—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has sent a letter to the Youngstown City Council demanding them to immediately repeal a 2009 ordinance against begging that violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
According to ACLU of Ohio Cooperating Attorney Joe Mead, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that requests for money are considered free speech under the First Amendment. The law also is so broad that it applies to any form of charitable request on public and private property within the city limits, whether it’s in person or online.
“The scope of what’s illegal under this law is astounding,” Mead points out. “Anyone or any group in Youngstown asking for money, for any reason, and by any means would be violating the law. This is intolerable under the First Amendment.”
Laws against charitable solicitation, begging, or panhandling are often selectively enforced by police against people deemed as “less desirable.” By incarcerating individuals who look homeless, these laws exacerbate the constitutional issue of free speech for all people. Additionally, making homelessness a crime continues the cycle of poverty and makes the plights of these individuals even more severe.
“Freedom of speech belongs to the rich and poor alike, and applies whether the community finds the speech or the speaker to be agreeable or not,” Mead said. “No one is required to donate to charity or to individuals, but the First Amendment entrusts citizens—not government—to decide for themselves.”
The ACLU has requested that the city council respond by June 15.