PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Religious and community outreach organizations sued the city in federal court Tuesday over new regulations that prohibit feeding the homeless in outdoor public spaces, maintaining the ban violates their constitutional rights.
The lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and a local law firm on behalf of several organizations that have for years distributed meals to the homeless in parks and other public spaces. The lawsuit contends that Mayor Michael Nutter's motivation for implementing the ban was to keep the homeless hidden from visitors, especially now that the new Barnes Foundation is open and drawing large crowds near one popular feeding spot.
"These regulations are directed at the homeless, and no one else," Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "The city clearly values its public image over our clients' constitutional right to practice their religion and the needs of the homeless."
Nutter has said feeding the homeless in an indoor setting is more dignified and can also provide access to medical and mental health services. His spokesman said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
The city moved in March to prohibit the distribution of meals in public areas, including the area of Benjamin Franklin Parkway where the Barnes Foundation and other museums are located. The ban took effect June 1, when warning signs were posted prohibiting outdoor feeding and warning repeat violators they would be subject to $150 fines.
The plaintiffs allege the ban violates their constitutional rights to free exercise of religion and free speech, as well as Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom Protection Act.
"The plaintiffs, as a religious mission, provide critical services and shed much needed light on a problem that government has failed to adequately address," said civil rights attorney Paul Messing, lead counsel for plaintiffs Chosen 300 Ministries, The Welcome Church, The King's Jubilee and Philly Restart. "We look to our courts to stop the city from banning the constitutionally protected work of these groups."
Other popular tourist spots located on or near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, The Franklin Institute and The Academy of Natural Sciences.Tags: