LITTLE ROCK – The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court ruling striking down a ban on panhandling on the grounds that it infringed on the First Amendment right to free speech.

“Being poor is not a crime, and today’s ruling affirms that people have a constitutional right to ask for help,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas legal director and interim executive director. “On behalf of our plaintiffs and all Arkansans, we’re grateful and relieved that this unconstitutional effort to criminalize poverty has been struck down once and for all.” 

The ACLU of Arkansas filed a lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of two Arkansas residents who faced citation, arrest and prosecution under the newly revised state law, which banned standing or remaining “for the purpose of asking for anything as a charity or a gift” in “an aggressive or threatening manner.” The lawsuit asserted that the law’s overly broad and poorly defined provisions had had a chilling effect on the free speech rights of its clients. The First Amendment prohibits speech restrictions that are based on the substance of the message being expressed. 

In a ruling invalidating the law, U.S. District Court Judge Billy Roy Wilson called the law “plainly unconstitutional” and said that the state had failed to “satisfy the rigorous constitutional standards that apply when government attempts to regulate expression based on its content.”