ACLU sues Joplin over panhandling ordinance
JOPLIN (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing a city in southwest Missouri of having a panhandling ordinance that interferes with free speech.
The ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit against Joplin Thursday on behalf of Christopher Snyder, a homeless man, the Joplin Globe reported.
Snyder and his wife became homeless in 2016 after he lost his job, according to the lawsuit. The couple lived in a car and met basic living needs by asking strangers for donations, the ACLU said.
The Joplin City Council approved an ordinance change in February prohibiting panhandling within 150 feet (46 meters) of intersections on busy streets.
Snyder was issued a warning shortly after the change took effect, the lawsuit said. A police officer told him that repeated violations would result in a ticket and possibly an arrest, the lawsuit alleged. He was approached by another police officer the same day.
Snyder and his wife left Joplin out of fear of being arrested, losing an opportunity at a local housing program they applied to, the lawsuit said.
"Joplin's code unlawfully restricts the free speech rights of Missourians," said Tony Rothert, the director of Missouri's ACLU. "Just because the city doesn't like what people say in public doesn't give it the right to make content-based restrictions on our First Amendment rights."
City Attorney Peter Edwards declined to comment, saying city officials haven't been notified of the lawsuit.