Cleveland panhandling laws unconstitutional, ACLU lawsuit claims

Cleveland panhandling laws unconstitutional, ACLU lawsuit claims

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging two Cleveland city ordinances that criminalize panhandling.

The ACLU argues the ordinances unconstitutionally burden free speech because they target individual speech that asks for money and for help. The union says one of the ordinances bans standing near roads and asking for money from passing traffic. It says the other makes it a misdemeanor to panhandle on public streets and sidewalks within 10-20 feet of a wide range of locations including bus stops, valet zones, and the entrances to buildings and parking lots.

"The First Amendment means that cities cannot ban speech simply because people would rather not hear the message," Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. "Yet that is precisely what Cleveland's ordinances do. They single out and punish panhandlers who ask for money, but do not punish any other type of speech."

The ACLU of Ohio says it successfully defeated a similar ordinance in Akron in 2016, adding other Ohio cities have voluntarily repealed the laws.

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