Communities all across the country have been making it illegal for people to give out money or even food to people experiencing homelessness and poverty. One pastor in St. Louis found out the hard way that criminalizing homelessness doesn’t just harm those in need, but can also have consequences for those who want to help, even if their religion directly compels them to do it.
Pastor Ray Redlich said that he and another volunteer went out on Halloween night to distribute food to anyone they met. According to him, it was a practice in meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of people. However, they were were approached by police officers, ticketed, and told they would have to appear in court for their crime.
Their attorney, Dave Roland, told reporters that he sees it differently and that no crime was committed, "The 11th circuit court of appeals a couple of months ago ruled that sharing food with the needy is itself an act of expressive conduct. It is protected by the First Amendment. It is one of the bedrock ideas of Christianity, and in fact the Bible says that in giving food to even the least of these you are giving food to Jesus himself. That's why it's so crucial to these gentlemen’s faith."
The case referenced by Roland is an ordinance put in place by Fort Lauderdale, FL that has been long contested by Food Not Bombs. The ordinance received national headlines for arresting members of the organization and in a separate incident 90 year old Arnold Abbott. The ruling overturned similar ordinances throughout the entire 11th Circuit Court and has been discussed as precedent in other cases.
This case brought forward by Pastor Redlich would place it within the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and would help set precedent and potentially, depending on the ruling, be taken to the Supreme Court.
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