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Nov 28, 2012 8:24 PM by Jacqui Heinrich

ACLU files lawsuit against city over panhandling ban

The city of Colorado Springs has a new lawsuit on its hands as the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the new 'downtown no solicitation zone'. They say it is unconstitutional and violates free speech.

If nothing happens panhandlers, Salvation Army bell ringers, even street performers won't be asking for your money downtown anymore. The 'no solicitation zone' passed by City Council on Tuesday will go into effect as early as next week...but not if the ACLU gets its way.

"Solicitation is expression that's protected by the first amendment," Mark Silverstein, Director of the ACLU, told News 5. The ACLU says the ordinance discriminates against people based on the content of their message. "It's perfectly okay under this ordinance to stand on the sidewalk with a sign that says 'reelect the mayor', but someone standing in exactly the same place with a sign that's exactly the same size is in violation of the law if the sign says 'please donate to the campaign against breast cancer'," Silverstein said.

Beth Mosley is one of four people and four organizations who filed suit. "I'm here because I believe that it is my right to receive messages of need and respond to them as I wish," she said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Mosley says the ban doesn't solve problems of homelessness and poverty, it just pushes them elsewhere. There are other victims, too: those who solicit for their business or charity.

City Attorney Chris Melcher says legal precedent will uphold the ordinance. "We've seen the 11th circuit of the Federal Court of Appeals uphold this exact language and we copied this exact language from the Fort Lauderdale ordinance."

Melcher says the ban is crucial to downtown revitalization since aggressive panhandlers pushed business out of the area, and it's something that community members want. That will be the key argument in court. "This is something that's really going to help increase the use and activity downtown, it's going to help the small businesses. Many of these small business owners, this is their only livelihood," he said.

ACLU reps asked the court for an expedited hearing so things can get sorted out before enforcement begins as early as next week.

 

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