This afternoon Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU, sent the below letter to all Grand Junction City Council members regarding the proposed “emergency” ordinances prohibiting “aggressive solicitation” and panhandling.
The letter makes several good points, but one paragraph summarizes things rather well:
“The council should know that solicitation of funds is expression that is protected by the First Amendment and Article II, Section 10 of the Colorado Constitution. This is as true whether the solicitor is an employee of the American Cancer Society, a firefighter passing a boot, or an unemployed person asking for help to get through the next day. Regulations of solicitation in public places are subject to challenge as violations of the right of free expression. In such a challenge, the City bears the burden of proving that the regulations comply with the Constitution.”
While the ACLU’s concerns may or may not have the desired effect on Council, letters written by myself and others over the last two days will hopefully help Council to see the significant issues involved with the hasty adoption of laws that Mr. Silverstein assessed as containing “serious flaws in both conception and execution”.
In the “unstated motives” department, one other sentence sticks out:
“The council should question whether this ordinance is truly meant as a safety measure or whether, as in other communities, the safety rationale is a pretext for the proponents’ true motivation: to push the homeless and unemployed out of sight”.
The response against tonight’s proposed action has come from varying ends of the political spectrum locally, and may promise a significant turnout at tonight’s meeting. While I will be at work, I may be making use of the City’s impressive and robust e-government capabilities to garner a view of the proceedings.
I did get a big e-mail “THANK YOU!” from my district Councilman, Tom Kenyon. Thanks for reading my e-mail, Tom, and may the right decisions be made tonight.