ACLU challenges Cleveland’s anti-panhandling ordinances

CLEVELAND-- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in federal court against the city of Cleveland for its panhandling ordinances.

The ACLU said in a news release on Tuesday the two ordinances that criminalize panhandling are an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

Cleveland Media Relations Director Dan Williams said the city is reviewing the lawsuit, but they do not comment on on-going litigation.

Cleveland's ordinances prohibit standing near roads to ask for money from passing cars, and panhandling on public streets and sidewalks near locations likes bus stops and valet zones.

“Do we really want the government to decide what people are and are not allowed to talk about?” said Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio, in a news release. “The First Amendment means that cities cannot ban speech simply because people would rather not hear the message. Yet that is precisely what Cleveland’s ordinances do. They single out and punish panhandlers who ask for money, but do not punish any other type of speech.”

In May, Akron City Council voted to repeal its 10-year-old panhandling ordinance amid threats of legal action from the ACLU. The law required panhandlers to register and get a permit. Akron police said it did not apply to those standing peacefully on street corners, but those who aggressively approach others.

The Akron law rarely resulted in arrests or citations.