The ACLU of Arkansas filed suit in U.S. district court today challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that it said infringes on the right to free speech. The lawsuit argues that the new law, like a previous begging ban that was struck down by the courts last year, criminalizes people who ask for help.
“We understand that being asked for money can make some people uncomfortable, but making an end-run around the Constitution is not the answer,” said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “The freedom of speech is a right guaranteed to everyone under the Constitution, including people who are down on their luck.”
“By censoring and even criminalizing people based on the content of their speech, this law violates the Constitution and infringes on one of our most fundamental freedoms,” said Bettina Brownstein, ACLU of Arkansas cooperating attorney. “If we don’t defend unpopular speech, everyone’s free speech rights are at risk.”
In its complaint filed today against the Arkansas State Police, the ACLU of Arkansas argues that the law’s overly broad and poorly defined provisions have had a chilling effect on the free speech rights of its clients. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Arkansas residents who could face citation, arrest and prosecution under the new law, which bans standing or remaining “for the purpose of asking for anything as a charity or a gift” in “an aggressive or threatening manner.”
In 2016 the ACLU of Arkansas successfully challenged a state law making it a crime to ask for money, food or other charity, on the basis that it violated the right to free speech. The federal court agreed that the law unlawfully criminalized protected free speech and struck it down.