Assistant Professor Joseph Mead recently sent a letter to Youngstown City Council threatening a lawsuit if the City does not repeal a citywide ban on “begging.” The letter points out that the apparent scope of the law prohibits all charitable requests of any sort anywhere in the city, although it appears that the law is being selectively enforced only against individuals perceived as poor. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has already held that bans on begging violate the First Amendment. In the letter, available here, Professor Mead explained: “Freedom of speech belongs to the rich and the poor alike, and applies whether the community finds the speech or the speaker to be agreeable or not. No one is required to donate to charity or to individuals, but by allowing all voices into the marketplace of ideas, the First Amendment entrusts citizens—not their government—with the choice to decide which causes to heed and which requests to answer.”
Professor Mead has given two media interviews regarding this case: one to WKSU (available here) and another to the Youngstown Vindicator (available here). Most recently, according to press reports, Youngstown has already stopped enforcing this “begging” law.
In a forthcoming article in the Ohio State Law Journal’s online supplement (“First Amendment Protection of Charitable Speech”), Professor Mead explains the First Amendment problems with ordinances that restrict requests for charity (including charitable solicitation, panhandling, and begging), pointing out defects in laws found in Akron, Dayton, and other places in Ohio and across the country. Professor Mead holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management and Public Administration in the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and is handling this matter pro bono in cooperation with the ACLU of Ohio.