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Food & Hunger

Sharing Food With Homeless People Is Now Protected by First Amendment


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Though you might not have realized the issue was up for debate, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals officially ruled on Wednesday that feeding the homeless is “expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.”

The decision was made during a dispute between the organization Food Not Bombs and the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for requiring a permit to share food in public parks, reported Forbes.

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“We are very pleased with this ruling, and we look forward to continuing our community organizing in Fort Lauderdale,” Nathan Pim, a member of Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs and a plaintiff in the challenge, said in a statement. “We hope we are one step closer to something we've fought for over many years — simply being able to help people without being threatened with arrest by people who should be working with us.”

While Food Not Bombs is not a charity, for years it has hosted a weekly event in Stranahan Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale, serving free vegetarian and vegan meals to the public. Many of the participants at these gatherings are homeless individuals, according to the report.

In 2014, the city enacted an ordinance making it illegal to share food in public parks without a “conditional use permit” and complying with the city’s social service regulations for “outdoor food distribution centers,” reported Upworthy.

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Two ministers and a nonagenarian who were trying to feed the homeless were subsequently arrested the same year, according to the report. Following these incidents, Food Not Bombs decided to sue the city in 2015 for violating its First Amendment rights, noted Upworthy.

“History may have been quite different had the Boston Tea Party been viewed as mere dislike for a certain brew and not a political protest against the taxation of the American colonies without representation,” Judge Adalberto Jordan explained in his decision.

The chapter’s legal counsel echoed that sentiment in response to the decision.

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“The court’s opinion recognized sharing food with another human being is one of the oldest forms of human expression,” Kirsten Anderson, litigation director at the Southern Legal Counsel and lead attorney on the case, told Forbes. “We think this decision strengthens our message to cities across the country that they need to invest in constructive solutions to homelessness instead of wasting government resources on punishing people who seek to offer aid.”

Food Not Bombs was founded in the early 1980s by anti-nuclear activists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to protest war and poverty. Since then, the network of social justice volunteers has grown to more than 5,000 chapters worldwide, noted Forbes.