ACLU sues Worcester, Mass. over panhandling law

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May 13, 2013, 5:56 pm
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(NECN: Kristen Carosa; Worcestor, Mass.) - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit in federal court Monday to block two anti-panhandling ordinances in Worcester, Mass. They went into effect in January.

“I feel good about what we filed and our chances to prevail,” says Chris Robarge with the ACLU.

The ACLU claims the ordinances violate 1st Amendment rights to free speech.

“While the intention was to prevent aggressive panhandling the ordinances have actually caused a much broader prohibition of activities.”

Robarge of the ACLU says the ordinance violates the right of free speech and affects a wide range of people who have the right to peacefully solicit, especially the poor and homeless.

“It also affects people who are trying to hold tag days to raise money for organizations... And also politicians who are looking to campaign in certain areas.”

“People can still be on the sidewalk - politicians and teams - but they cannot step into traffic,” says Worcester Councilor at large, Rick Rushton.

He says panhandling is not completely banned in the city and says people can still solicit money on sidewalks but not on medians in busy intersections.

“We had to balance the need to express yourself with the public safety aspect of it,” Rushton says.

He says the laws that are in place are intended to keep both children and adults safe - not to take away freedom of expression.

“Our legal counsel said we were well within the rights to pass the ordinance that we passed... It comes down to public safety.”

Robarge says the ACLU disagrees and that the ordinance needs to be changed.

“What I am hoping comes out of the suit is that the ordinance will either be eliminated or altered in such a way that they are not violating constitutional rights.”

Tags: lawsuit, ACLU, Worcester Mass., panhandling bill, 1st Amendment, Kristen Carosa
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