Free Speech Press Release

03.28.19

ACLU of Ohio Joins Challenge to Summit County’s Panhandling Ordinance

Free Speech

AKRON – Today, March 28, the ACLU of Ohio filed an amended complaint in a case challenging a Summit County ordinance, enacted in December of 2018, which criminalizes giving or receiving donations near roadways; a thinly disguised effort to effectively ban panhandling from much of the county. The ACLU argues that the ordinance unconstitutionally burdens free speech because it limits speech that asks for money and for help.

“As a result of our advocacy last summer Summit County repealed a 2013 anti-panhandling ordinance it had on the books. Shortly thereafter, the Summit County Council introduced a new law, disguised some of the language, but continued to criminalize panhandling anyway,” noted Joe Mead, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.

Bath Township is one such jurisdiction where panhandlers are banned from soliciting and receiving donations from passing motorists. “The Bath Township Police told our client – ‘I want you to leave and never come back’ – Mr. Wilson is being harassed for exercising his constitutional rights,” added Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.

“Do we really want the government to spend its time telling people they aren’t allowed to ask for help?” asked Mead. “Summit County and Bath are specifically singling out and punishing panhandlers who ask for money, but do not punish any other type of speech.”

In addition to criminalizing panhandling itself, this ordinance also criminalizes people who donate money to members of their community who are in need. “This component of the law is particularly spiteful and further reveals the intent behind Summit County Council’s enactment of the ordinance. The First Amendment means that cities and counties cannot penalize people for helping each other,” concluded Bonham.

The ACLU of Ohio asks the Court to strike this ordinance down as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

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Read the  complaint.