AKRON—Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed suit in federal court challenging an Akron ordinance that restricts panhandling. The ACLU argues this law violates the First Amendment by singling out speech that asks for help for special restrictions.
“The First Amendment provides the same protection to all of us,” said Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, you have the right to express yourself in public spaces.”
In January, the ACLU sent a letter to the Akron mayor and city council urging them to repeal the city’s panhandling ordinance. The city has not formally responded to the letter, prompting legal action by the ACLU.
“The City of Akron is aware that this ordinance is unconstitutional and has chosen to do nothing,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson. “The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the Constitution protects people’s right to express themselves without asking for permission. Since elected officials in Akron have done nothing to fix this law, we have asked the courts to step in.”
“Freedom of speech prevents cities from censoring speech simply because a few people in the community would prefer not to hear it,” said Joe Mead. “Silencing the speech of the poor does not solve poverty. Rather than trying to prevent individuals from speaking about their needs, public officials would be better served by trying to address those needs directly.”
The Civil Litigation Clinic at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is assisting with this case.