BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Boise enacted an unconstitutional ordinance that prohibits "aggressive solicitation," and "interference with pedestrians," the ACLU claims in Federal Court.
Boise enacted the law in September. It prohibits aggressive solicitation in certain public places, including with 20 feet of ATM machines or of entrances to financial institutions, sidewalk cafes, public restrooms, bus stops other places.
(See ordinance, at the end of this article.)
The law defines aggressive panhandling as standing in a public place, or approaching people walking by or driving by in cars, and asking for money or "things of value."
The ACLU claims the law is overbroad and affects other activities, such as soliciting donations in support of specific causes, as the ACLU does, or playing musical instruments in return for coins dropped in a guitar case.
The ACLU, a nonprofit "whose mission is to advance civil liberties and civil rights in Idaho," claims it will find its mission more difficult to accomplish if the law is allowed to take affect on Jan. 2, 2014, as scheduled.
"The ACLU relies on private donations of money and other things of value to carry out [its] mission," the complaint states. "To comply with the City of Boise's new anti-solicitation ordinance would require the ACLU to significantly alter its solicitation activities and to plan both the substance and location of its speech."
Larry Shanks, one of two individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is a disabled woodworker who plays the guitar. He subsists on Social Security benefits and lives in his camper.
"The new anti-solicitation ordinance will substantially restrict where he can perform, how he can perform and what he says and does whenever he is performing his music in public places in Boise," according to the complaint.
The other individual plaintiff, Troy Minton, asks for gas money on streets and sidewalks, so he can drive to jobs he gets through temp agencies.
Minton says he wants to enroll in college to study Fire Science and Management and become a firefighter. He says the new law could make that harder for him.
The law does have exceptions to its prohibitions: "This ordinance shall not be construed to prohibit solicitation that is limited to passively standing on the public sidewalk or plaza or sitting on a sidewalk bench or plaza bench with a sign or other written indication that one is seeking donations without orally addressing the request to any specific person. This ordinance does not prohibit lawful exercise of one's constitutional right to picket, protest, or stand on the sidewalk even when doing so makes passage less convenient for others having to walk around the person picketing, protesting, or standing."
Nonetheless, the ACLU claims the law violates the First Amendment.
"Public streets, sidewalks and parks have long been held, by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, to be the quintessential traditional public forums for speech," the ACLU says in its complaint. "The ordinance expands and builds upon an official city campaign to discourage people from requesting immediate donations of money in public places in Boise, and to discourage people from giving money who make those requests."
The campaign is called "Have a Heart, Give Smart" and encourages good Samaritans to give to particular charities.