NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge declared the City of Slidell’s panhandling ordinance unconstitutional yesterday, ruling that the law violated the First Amendment rights of people asking for money anywhere within the Slidell City limits. Under the ordinance, panhandlers would have been required to register with police and acquire a permit to engage in a constitutionally protected activity. The ACLU of Louisiana brought the suit on behalf of Gary Blitch, a U.S. Army veteran, and his co-plaintiffs David Knight and Daniel Snyder.
“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.”
In January 2017, the City agreed to suspend enforcement of the ordinance, and passed a revised version with only minor changes. The final ordinance still required a difficult and unnecessary process for anyone who wished to exercise their right to ask others for money.
“The fundamental flaw in Slidell’s ordinance is that it required people to get permits from the government just to exercise their right to free speech in public,” said Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton. “That’s offensive to the Constitution and to the values we hold as a free country.”
The plaintiffs were represented by ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton, and cooperating attorney Ronald L. Wilson.