AKRON—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today to Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and Akron City Council urging them to repeal immediately an ordinance against panhandling that violates the First Amendment by making it a crime to ask a neighbor for help. Akron’s law makes it illegal to ask for help by imposing burdensome restrictions on when, where, and how this speech can take place.

“Even if business owners, downtown visitors, or others in the community find panhandling to be uncomfortable or annoying, there is absolutely no basis for the City of Akron to try to silence that speech,” said Joseph Mead, ACLU of Ohio Cooperating Attorney. “Akron’s law singles out speech asking for charitable donations for special restrictions that do not exist for other types of expression. This is intolerable under the First Amendment.”

Read the letter to Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and Akron City Council

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that the Constitution guarantees the right to speak on a sidewalk without asking for permission. This includes the right of those in need to tell others about their circumstances.

Many local governments attempt to hide the homeless in their communities by silencing expressions of need. Instead of trying to silence individuals speaking about their needs, public officials would be better served by trying to address those needs directly.

“Freedom of speech belongs to the rich and poor alike. It applies whether the community finds the speech or the speaker to be agreeable or not,” added Freda Levenson, ACLU of Ohio Legal Director. “No one is required to donate to a charity or individual, but the First Amendment entrusts citizens—not government—to decide for themselves.”

The ACLU has requested that city officials respond by January 22 and has threatened litigation if they do not immediately repeal the unconstitutional law.