ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, Arkansas ACLU, Arkansas state law, Arkansas State Police, begging ban, criminal proceedings, daughter’s medical bills, disabled vetean, federal court, First Amendment, freedom of speech, Glynn Dilbeck, Holly Dickson, homeless man, Judge Bill Wilson, Little Rock AR, loitering law, Michael A. Rodgers, Rodgers vs. Bryant, U.S. District Court
Little Rock, Ark. — U.S. District Court Judge Bill Wilson last week afternoon agreed to strike down a portion of Arkansas law which prohibits public begging for any purpose.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas earlier appeared in the U.S. District Court to challenge the state’s loitering law, which outlaws the act of asking for money, food or other charity any time and any place. The ACLU asserted the law is unconstitutional because it criminalizes speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The case was filed on behalf of two individuals, Michael Andrew Rodgers and Glynn Dilbeck. Michael Andrew Rodgers is a disabled veteran who holds up a sign and peacefully asks for money from passers-by. He uses any money he receives to help cover his living expenses. Glynn Dilbeck is a homeless man who holds up a sign asking for money that he uses to help pay for his daughter’s medical bills.
Rodgers has been arrested, jailed, and assessed fees and fines for violating the law, which makes it a crime to beg anywhere, anytime.
Dilbeck has been cited by the Arkansas State Police and subjected to criminal proceedings for violating this same law. Both individuals are now afraid to continue begging for fear of breaking this law.
The law banned asking for assistance in all public places at any time, including sidewalks, thoroughfares, and parks, day or night. The federal court announced that it would grant the ACLU’s request that the law be enjoined.
In his ruling Judge Wilson wrote “A statute that regulates speech based on its content, must be narrowly tailored to promote a compelling government interest. Banning begging in all places, at all times, by all people, in all ways does not come close to chinning this bar. Arkansas’ anti-begging law infringes on the freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution.”
He wrote that his order on the anti-begging statute would not affect the other subsections within the loitering law.
Holly Dickson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Arkansas, said “This law defied the letter and spirit of the Constitution by singling out this particular speech and making it a crime to be poor and ask for help. We are relived that those who are down on their luck should no longer face prosecution, jail and fines simply for asking for help.”
The case, Rodgers v. Bryant, challenging Arkansas law, Ark. Code Ann. § 5-71-213(a) (3) was filed against the Director for the Arkansas State Police. A finding that the law is unconstitutional should prevent future arrests or citations from being issued by any law enforcement officer in Arkansas. A written order from the Court was forthcoming.