The ACLU of Louisiana sued the City of Slidell on behalf of three individuals who panhandle on the city streets. Gary Blitch, a U.S. Army veteran, and co-plaintiffs David Knight and Daniel Snyder, seek nothing more than their First Amendment right to ask others for money.
While panhandling has long been recognized as a First Amendment-protected activity, the City of Slidell has passed an ordinance requiring registration with the police and a permit. “Slidell officials have tried for years to remove beggars from their streets,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Whether they like it or not, free speech applies to all, including those whose speech Slidell officials may not favor.”
The lawsuit, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeks a declaration that the ordinance is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance.
On January 10, 2017, in a conference before U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, the City of Slidell agreed not to enforce its requirement that panhandlers register with the police, pending the court’s ruling on the ordinance’s constitutionality. Based on that promise, the ACLU of Louisiana agreed that its request for a preliminary injunction could be dismissed as moot.
On June 20, 2017, Judge Africk declared the City of Slidell’s panhandling ordinance unconstitutional, ruling that the law violated the First Amendment rights of people asking for money anywhere within the Slidell City limits.
“This decision affirms that even unpopular speech is protected under the Constitution,” said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The City of Slidell may not ban messages it doesn’t like or punish people for asking for help. Instead it has an obligation to protect the rights of all residents.”