ROGERS, Ark. – A U.S. District Court has struck down an anti-panhandling ordinance in Rogers, Arkansas on the grounds that the restrictions unconstitutionally infringe on the right to freedom of speech. The ACLU of Arkansas challenged the ordinance in 2017, suing on behalf of two plaintiffs, Glynn Dilbeck and Michael Andrew Rodgers, who have been affected by the ordinances.
“This ruling affirms once again that asking for help is not a crime,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “Local officials have an obligation to serve and protect everyone in their communities – rich and poor. We’re pleased that these unconstitutional restrictions have been struck down, and will continue to defend the right of every Arkansan to speak their mind or ask for help.”
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Brooks wrote in striking down the ban that the ordinance “would cut a wide and destructive swath through the First Amendment rights of not only panhandlers, but also leafleteers, political activists, and many others who choose to engage in protected speech on the streets of Rogers.”
In 2017, the ACLU of Arkansas filed two lawsuits in federal district court challenging anti-panhandling ordinances in Fort Smith, Hot Springs and Rogers on the basis that they violate the First Amendment by criminalizing people for exercising their right to free speech. The ACLU asked the court to invalidate and block enforcement of the ordinances, which have caused their clients to be arrested, jailed and prosecuted for peacefully asking for help.
While Fort Smith repealed its ordinance, Hot Springs and Rogers amended their ordinances.
In 2016, the ACLU of Arkansas successfully challenged a state law making it a crime to ask for money, food or other charity, any time and any place, on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech. In 2017, a U.S. District Court blocked new state-level restrictions on panhandling, granting a request by the ACLU of Arkansas to enjoin the law on the grounds that it unconstitutionally infringed on the First Amendment right to free speech.