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Eleventh Circuit: Sharing Food with Homeless Expressive Conduct Protected by First Amendment

By R. Bailey

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals made the “first pronouncement” by any federal appeals court by addressing an issue of human compassion: the outdoor sharing of food with others. The court found that the sharing of food with the homeless is not a “charity.” Rather, it found such activity is “expressive conduct” protected by the First Amendment.
Members of the Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs food sharing movement, including a 90-year-old man, were arrested for violating a 2014 City of Fort Lauderdale ordinance, which prohibited food sharing in public parks that are less than 500 feet away from residences, after they handed out food to homeless residents.
The not-for-profit group filed suit against the city, alleging a First Amendment violation by its use of “Homeless Hate Laws” that restrict the sharing of food, pan handling, and camping.
The Eleventh Circuit, a three-judge panel, cited Shakespeare's Macbeth, the Boston Tea Party, the Bible's Jesus, and Native Americans feeding the Pilgrims. “[Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs] does not serve food as a charity, but rather to communicate its message, that [ ] society can end hunger and poverty if we redirect our collective resources from the military and war and that food is a human right, not a privilege, which society has a responsibility to provide to all,” wrote Judge Adalberto Jordan. “Providing food in a visible public space, and partaking in meals shared with others, is an act of political solidarity meant to convey the organization's message.”
“The court's opinion recognized sharing food with another human being is one of the oldest forms of human expression,” said Kristen Anderson, director of litigation for the Southern Legal Counsel, which represented Food Not Bombs. “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.”

Said Food Not Bombs member Nathan Pim: “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.”

The matter was remanded back to the district court to reconsider the city ordinance in light of the court's opinion. Sources: wlrn.org; southernlegal.org

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Related legal case

Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs, et al. v. City of Fort Lauderdale

 

 

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