Posted by | July 8, 2010 18:43 | Filed under: Top Stories


by JT Orlando

In a blow to efforts to help the homeless nationwide, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the City of Orlando’s efforts to stop feeding the homeless in city parks. The decision yesterday reversed a lower court ruling that determined that the city’s ordinance banning the weekly feedings violated the plaintiff organizations’ rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. In short, the Eleventh Circuit determined that Orlando’s desire to keep riff-raff out of its parks outweighed the societal value of feeding the homeless.

The organizations that originally sued the city, First Vagabonds Church of God and Orlando Food Not Bombs (“OFNB”), contended that their act of feeding homeless people each week in Orlando’s iconic Lake Eola Park constituted advocacy of homeless rights that is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression. The church in addition argued that the feedings were a ministry, and the city’s ordinance impermissibly restricted their free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and applied to the states (and municipalities thereof) by the Fourteenth Amendment. But in each case, the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the plaintiffs’ assertions, ruling essentially that (1) it wasn’t clear that the feedings were sufficiently “expressive” to invoke the First Amendment; (2) the ordinance was a reasonable, neutral limit on use of the parks, not rising to the level of a restriction on the practice of religion; and (3) that the ordinance wasn’t unduly vague, discriminatory, or arbitrarily applied.*

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