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Government & Politics

ACLU Sues, saying Akron's Panhandling Law Violates Speech Rights

Photo of sign asking for help

UPDATE:  A city spokeswoman says they haven't been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio made good this week on its promise to sue the City of Akron if changes were not made to its law restricting panhandling.  

The ACLU last month sent a cease and desist warning to Akron over its panhandling ordinance, and this week it followed through on its threat.

There is no right NOT to hear speech.

The law requires panhandlers to register with the city and carry an ID badge. It also prohibits panhandling within 20 feet of an ATM, café, school, church or bus stop and limits it to daylight hours. 

The city says panhandling is one of the biggest deterrents to people strolling Akron’s sidewalks, and the law protects citizens from aggressive begging.

Joe Mead teaches law at Cleveland State University and is working with the ACLU. He says the people he’s representing have the First Amendment right to ask their fellow citizens for money.

“We have three plaintiffs and there are dozens more who have been limited in what they say. They’ve been approached by police and told to leave; they’ve been forced to get registered, and all of these things infringe on a speech right.”    

He says the First Amendment protects begging for money -- even if some people don’t like the message.

“There is no right NOT to hear speech. There is a right TO free speech," says Mead.

He adds, "the government doesn’t get to decide which messages are popular, which messages are pleasant.” 

Mead says similar laws in other cities have been found unconstitutional. The ACLU is also asking for police to stop enforcing the law while the case is pending.

The mayor’s office and Akron city council were not available to comment.