The city of Charlottesville, Va., is being sued by the ACLU for a partial ban on panhandling. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court over a panhandling ban instituted by the city of Charlottesville in Virginia. The ACLU, and the homeless men the group is representing, claims the ban abridges freedom of speech.

New law shielding downtown mall gets city slapped with suit

The city of Charlottesville, Va., a medium-sized city less than 120 miles from Washington, D.C., recently instituted a controversial law that has resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the city for encroaching on the civil liberties of some of its inhabitants. Charlottesville, according to The Telegraph, is being sued over a panhandling ban, or begging ban as it is sometimes called, around the Charlottesville downtown mall. The shopping area is a premier shopping destination and tourist attraction in the city, and the intent was to keep patrons from being harassed by solicitations. The law was enacted in August 2010, according to the Augusta Free Press, and prohibits soliciting for money within 50 feet of customers dining outside or the two streets crossing the mall. The Downtown Mall, according to Wikipedia, is an eight-block-long area.

ACLU lawyer jumps in the fray

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of five homeless men. The suit asserts that the law unconstitutionally is censoring a form of speech. The lawyer for the ACLU, Jeffrey Vogel, according to Charlottesville newspaper The Hook, insists that the mall cannot be “set up like Disneyland” and because the law is vague and no other forms of speech are being censored, the law violates First Amendment protections against abridging forms of speech and the Due Process Clause protections of the Fourteenth Amendment by revoking the way these men receive much of their income without giving them a chance in court. The five plaintiffs are seeking for the ban to be lifted and tor the city to pay attorney’s fees and monetary damages.

Cities trying to restrict panhandling

Vogel insists that the ban is not to make the area safer but it is “removing the reminders of poverty from our sight.” Charlottesville is not the first city to try to ban begging. In Virginia, the cities of Richmond, Herndon, Hampton and Newport News all have panhandling restrictions that were cautiously worded to avoid such suits. Dayton, Ohio, is also facing an ACLU suit over panhandling laws, according to the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The city of Tampa, Fla., is considering a ban on panhandling unless beggars are trying to sell newspapers, according to the Tampa Tribune, and the city already has some restrictions in place. The cites of Toronto, according to 680News, and London, according to the IFPress, in the Canadian province of Ontario are also mulling panhandling bans.


The Telegraph:

Augusta Free Press:

The Hook:

Wikipedia on Downtown Mall of Charlottesville:

Forum of Fargo-Moorhead:

Tampa Tribune:



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