The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed suit in federal district court challenging the City of Grand Junction's anti-panhandling ordinance, which bans a wide swath of speech that is protected by the First Amendment.
Although Grand Junction officials have claimed that the ordinance aims only at “aggressive” panhandling, the ACLU contends that most of the provisions are written so broadly that they also apply to peaceful, non-intrusive requests for assistance, such as a person sitting silently with a sign seeking a donation.
The law prohibits all panhandling after sunset and in any of a dozen additional locations and situations specified in the ordinance, such as within 100 feet of a bus stop or a school.
Among the speech banned by the ordinance is any solicitation of a person defined as “at risk,” a category that broadly includes all persons over 70 and all persons with mental or physical disabilities.
The ACLU lawsuit, which sought to stop enforcement of the ordinance before it was scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, March 23, 2014, was filed on behalf of five individuals, including a street performer and a former member of the US Coast Guard, as well as Humanists Doing Good, a nonprofit organization. All engage in peaceful expression that the new ordinance has unjustifiably made a crime punishable by up to one year in jail, according to the ACLU.
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