Laws that ban panhandling have often been used as a tool to harass poor persons and move them away from public places. In Colorado and elsewhere in the country, court have rejected or severely restricted these laws on the ground that a request for charity is expression that is protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU of Colorado has won First Amendment challenges to panhandling ordinances in Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, and outside the courtroom it has persuaded numerous jurisdicitons to repeal or amend their panhandling ordinances.
Some communities, like Greeley, responded to these court decisions by targetting panhandling indirectly—by banning pedestrian presence in locations where panhandling often takes place, such as traffic medians.
This lawsuit challenges a Greeley ordinance that bans all pedestrian presence in all medians throughout the city.
The ACLU’s clients include three impoverished persons who panhandle on medians in order to obtain funds to meet their most basic needs, and a fourth individual who wants to stand on medians to convey political messages to passing vehicles.
The lawsuit, filed on September 10, 2019. Greeley agreed to stop enforcing the challenged ordinance and did not opposed the ACLU's motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The Court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction, and Greeley repealed the challenged ordinance a month later.
ACLU news releases:
- "In ACLU lawsuit, Greeley agrees to stop enforcing 'median ban' that targets panhandlers," ACLU News Release, September 10, 2019
- "Greeley repeals 'median ban' challenged in ACLU free speech lawsuit," ACLU News Release, October 16, 2019
- "Greeley halts enforcement of pedestrian median ban after ACLU sues," Colorado Politics, September 10, 2019
- "City of Greeley suspends ordinance banning pedestrians from medians," Greeley Tribune, September 12, 2019
- "Greeley rolls back ban on lingering in medians," Colorado Politics, October 17, 2019