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First Amendment protects giving away food to homeless folks - determines Federal Court

Florida has had a long and sordid history with criminalizing both the action of experiencing homelessness and with providing life saving services to those on the streets. However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a blow in August of 2018, undoing these ordinances throughout its jurisdiction.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Though laws had popped up all over Florida prohibiting the destibution of food to those on the streets, it was a chapter of Food Not Bombs in Fort Lauderdale that issued the death blow to these cruel tactics. After numerous arrests of its members, clergy from area churches, and even 90-year old chef Arnold Abbott, the appeal was finally heard.

For many years, actions expressing descent had not been viewed by the courts as constitutionally protected speech. However, in this case the judge ruled differently stating, “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.”

Because the food distributions were in direct rebellion of anti-homeless ordinances, took place within the vaccinity of government buildings, and were open to the public, they had to be considered political speech.

“The court’s opinion recognized sharing food with another human being is one of the oldest forms of human expression,” said Kirsten Anderson, litigation director at the Southern Legal Counsel and lead attorney on the case. “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.”

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