AKRON—Akron City Council voted unanimously Monday night to repeal the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Ohio. The law targeted panhandling by requiring people to register with the city and restricted the activity to certain hours and locations. Last week the ACLU brought a lawsuit challenging the law on the grounds that it singled out particular types of speech for special restrictions.
“The repeal of this ordinance is a victory for the First Amendment and for some of Akron’s most vulnerable people,” said Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. “This decision by Akron City Council should send a message to every city in Ohio that restricting free speech is not an acceptable approach to solving poverty.”
In January the ACLU sent a letter to Akron officials notifying them that the city’s panhandling ordinance ran afoul of court decisions upholding panhandling as protected speech. After months of receiving no reply from the city, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court.
“Criminalizing people for being poor does nothing to alleviate the struggles of poverty, especially when these measures violate people’s fundamental right to express themselves,” Mead said. “Freedom of speech means that government lacks the power to silence speech simply because people would rather not hear the message.”
After repealing the anti-panhandling ordinance, Akron officials have stated that they remain committed to addressing issues of poverty and homelessness in the city.
“We hope that Akron will continue pursuing solutions to poverty in the city, while upholding the constitutional rights of its people,” Mead added. “Other cities should take this opportunity to review their own policies and not wait for legal challenges forcing them to do the right thing.”
The Civil Litigation Clinic at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law assisted with the case.