The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation today joined a pending federal civil rights lawsuit involving the right of the homeless to beg for alms in Cincinnati. Joining a pending suit on behalf of John O’Toole, homeless advocate Ed Ritchy, and the Homeless Hotline of Cincinnati, the civil liberties group challenged a wide variety of provision in the Cincinnati Municipal Code which restrict the right to panhandle on public property.

Portions of the municipal code passed in 2002 and 2003 forbid panhandling in a variety of locations, including near intersections, the entrances to bars and restaurants, near bus stops and automatic teller machines. The law also restricts what panhandlers may say, and vaguely prohibit asking for contributions in a manner people may find intimidating. According to lawyers for the ACLU, it all adds up to an impermissible restrict on free speech.

“Courts have recognized begging as a form of protected expression,” said Scott Greenwood, General Counsel for the ACLU of Ohio, who is one of the ACLU attorneys handling the case. “The city does not have the luxury of regulating protected expression out of existence in a misguided effort to make downtown more palatable to shoppers.”

The suit is pending in United States District Court in Cincinnati, and is assigned to the docket of Judge Susan Dlott.