Federal Judge Says First Amendment Protects Right To Share Food With Homeless

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy / Public Domain

The court found that the right to freedom of speech includes actions, not just words.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that feeding the homeless is “expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment,” in a case that sought to challenge a Florida statute that required not-for-profits to obtain a permit before distributing food in public parks, according to Forbes.

The case was brought by Food Not Bombs, an organization with close to over 5,000 chapters, and could potentially lead the Ft. Lauderdale statute to be ruled unconstitutional.

The litigation goes back to 2015 when Food Not Bombs sued the city claiming the ordinance violated their right to free speech and was unconstitutionally vague. A federal district court dismissed the case, which the group then appealed to the 11th circuit.

The circuit court, which remanded the case to the trial court for further consideration, said that in order to determine if an activity is expressive a court should “ask whether a reasonable person would interpret it as some sort of message, not whether an observer would necessarily infer a specific message.”

The opinion follows Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, a 1995 decision in which the Supreme Court held that “the Constitution looks beyond written or spoken words as mediums of expression” and that “a narrow, succinctly articulable message is not a condition of constitutional protection.”

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