Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had a reputation for discouraging people from sharing food with homeless people. If someone wanted to give away free food to the less fortunate, the city told them they required a permit for an “outdoor food distribution center.” In 2014, cops actually arrested two ministers and a 90-year-old man for giving away food to the homeless. Last week, though, a federal appeals court vindicated their actions with a ruling that feeding the homeless is “protected expression” under the First Amendment.
The Fort Lauderdale chapter of an organization called Food Not Bombs brought the lawsuit against the City Of Fort Lauderdale, and expressed relief at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court Of Appeals’ verdict.
“We hope we are one step closer to something we’ve fought for over many years—simply being able to help people without being threatened with arrest by people who should be working with us,” Food Not Bombs member Nathan Pim said in a statement.
In a colorful case that cites the Boston Tea Party, nude dancing, and flag burning, the plaintiffs successfully argued that their communal meals with the homeless are not mere charity but are expressions “of political solidarity meant to convey the organization’s message,” and therefor protected by free speech.
The 11th Circuit Court’s decision that sharing food is protected free speech returns the case to a lower court, which must now determine whether the City Of Fort Lauderdale’s requirements violate Food Not Bombs’ rights.