ACLU files challenge of state anti-loitering law | Arkansas Blog

Monday, October 24, 2016

ACLU files challenge of state anti-loitering law

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 11:25 AM

click to enlarge PANHANDLING: Efforts to stop such solicitations have led to a federal lawsuit. - KARK
  • KARK
  • PANHANDLING: Efforts to stop such solicitations have led to a federal lawsuit.
The ACLU of Arkansas today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state loitering law, which outlaws asking for money, food or other charity at any time or place.

The ACLU says the statute essentially criminalizes free speech.

Plaintiffs in the suit against the director of the State Police are Michael Andrew Rodgers and Glynn Dilbeck. Rodgers is a disabled veteran who holds up a sign and asks for money, which he uses for living expenses. Dilbeck is homeless and he holds  a sign asking for money to help pay his daughter' medical bills. Rodgers has been arrested, jailed and fined. Dilbeck has been cited by the State Police. Both men are now afraid to continue to beg, the ACLU said in a news release.

Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said “The First Amendment was adopted by our founders as a safeguard against government controls on what we can and cannot say, whether we’re asking for someone’s vote, or for money, food, or other charity. This country was founded on the essential principle that government cannot stifle speech that some people find annoying or uncomfortable—if it could, there would be no speech at all.
The ACLU lawsuit also asserts that the Arkansas’ anti-begging prohibition, which prohibits begging any place and any time, is unconstitutionally broad under both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. 
Rodgers has prompted efforts by the Hot Springs City Council to tailor an ordinance that would keep him out of the right of way with his signs. It passed another ordinance in September, with the city attorney arguing that banning solicitation was not banning free speech. The ordinance followed a circuit judge's ruling that Rodgers' earlier charge under the anti-loitering statute was unconstitutional. Rodgers had said he planned to challenge the Hot Springs ordinance too.

Sklar said the ACLU also was considering challenges of city ordinances, but hadn't reached a firm decision. Some ordinances are "more pernicious" than others, but she disputes the assertion in Hot Springs or anywhere else that prohibiting solicitation somehow is not a limit on free speech. (Didn't the U.S. Supreme Court say in Citizens United that money was speech.)

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