“These laws are part of the over-criminalization of America; these laws are overreaching.”
A 90-year-old man and two Christian ministers face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine after they were arrested for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Arnold Abbott, 90, was the first to be charged under a new city ordinance which virtually outlaws sharing food with the homeless in public. He says he was told to “Drop that plate immediately!” by an officer, as though he were holding a weapon.
"These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing; they don't have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?" Abbott said to the local KHON2 station.
Abbott has fed the homeless for over 20 years and heads Love Thy Neighbor, Inc. In 1999, he successfully sued the city when they tried to stop him feeding the homeless on the beach.
“Fining and jailing people because they’re feeding the homeless denies their First Amendment right."
Pastors Dwayne Black of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church were arrested along with Abbott for feeding the homeless on a sidewalk.
"We are simply trying to feed people who are hungry," said Sims. "To criminalize that is contrary to everything that I stand for as a priest and as a person of faith."
The city’s law was approved by the city commission on Oct. 22 and “limits where outdoor feeding sites can be located, requires the permission of property owners and says the groups have to provide portable toilet,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.
It is also illegal to sleep in public places in Fort Lauderdale’s downtown and to beg for money at major intersections, reports local station WLRN.
Homeless advocates call these types of ordinances, “homeless hate laws,” although city officials insist that’s not the case.
“I think that once the full story is out and people see the entire spectrum of services and initiatives in which the city is currently engaged, I think people will have a better understanding of our role in trying to help the homeless in our community,” said Commissioner Dean Trantalis to local station WLRN. He mentioned the city has programs to buy the homeless a bus ticket to return to family, and that they can use Federal and state grants for addicts or those facing economic suffering.
“These ordinances are popping up all over the country,” says John Whitehead, attorney with the Rutherford Institute and author of “A Government of Wolves: the Emerging American Police State.”
“Here you are dealing with people who have a religious conviction to feed the homeless, and this law violates their 1st Amendment right for freedom of religion,” said Whitehead.
“There has to be a compelling state interest to deny freedom of religion, and in my opinion this case does not meet that standard,” Whitehead said, adding that the Rutherford Institute has had success challenging similar ordinances in other cities. “These laws are part of the over-criminalization of America; these laws are overreaching.”
“If you’re fining and jailing people because they’re feeding homeless people, you’re denying them the right to religious freedom,” concluded Whitehead.