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May 11, 2016

Supreme Court Decision Undoing Cities’ Anti-Panhandling Laws

A Supreme Court ruling that allowed a pastor in Arizona to put up signs directing people to church services is having a ripple effect on communities’ efforts to clamp down on panhandling, Bloomberg reports. Lower courts have cited the case and its First Amendment implications in overturning a number of local ordinances barring or restricting begging on the streets.

Supporters of such measures contend they are aimed at curbing aggressive panhandling that can amount to harassment and affect economic development in downtown business districts. Antipoverty groups say the laws amount to criminalizing homelessness and unconstitutionally restrict speech based on its content. In the wake of the Arizona case, ordinances on begging in Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, and Colorado have been invalidated and court challenges are ongoing in several other states.