Federal Court Says We Have a Constitutional Right to Feed the Homeless

Appeals court says the political activist organization Food Not Bombs has a First Amendment right to share meals with the homeless in public places

A federal appeals court has ruled that people have a constitutional right to share food with the homeless in public places.

It might seem obvious and strange that a court would even have to rule on such an issue, but it’s not so obvious to the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In 2014, the city became “infamous for cracking down on compassion,” as Forbes Magazine puts it, arresting a 92-year-old man and two ministers for simply trying to share food with the homeless.

The political activist organization Food Not Bombs took the City of Fort Lauderdale to court after the city passed a law banning outdoor feedings of the homeless.

92-year-old Arnold Abbott, whose group Love Thy Neighbor works with Food Not Bombs to feed the homeless on a public beach and downtown, claims he’s practicing his freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Abbott was arrested in 2014 after Fort Lauderdale banned feeding the homeless in public

“I don’t know any religion that doesn’t say feed the poor,” Abbott told the Sun Sentinel.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s decision, saying the trial judge was wrong to dismiss the case on the grounds that the First Amendment didn’t apply.

Now the trial court must reexamine the case and determine whether the city’s ordinances violate the First Amendment.

While the city ordinance may violate the freedom of religion, Food Not Bombs argues it also violates their right to free speech.

The group argues it is not a charity, but a political activism organization, trying to convey a specific political message by feeding the homeless in plain sight, rather than hidden in buildings.

The organization advocates for redirecting the 50 cents of every tax dollar spent on the military toward meeting human needs including feeding and sheltering the homeless.

“We hope we are one step closer to something we’ve fought for over many years — simply being able to help people without being threatened with arrest by people who should be working with us.” Food Not Bombs member Nathan Pim told the Sun Sentinel.


78 responses to “Federal Court Says We Have a Constitutional Right to Feed the Homeless”

  1. Dana Allison Avatar
    Dana Allison

    How was that man’s activity of feeding the homeless any different from that of a social worker who helps people find a way out of the quagmire they are in? Was the trial court judge a cousin to The Donald?

    1. Mike Avatar

      This makes the city look bad. They want to keep thr homeless out of site and out of mind not in the area the tourists will be.

    2. VL Avatar

      It has NOTHING to do with th Trump family. SMH

    3. Tired of idiot leftists Avatar
      Tired of idiot leftists

      No, the judge was a leftist loony, like you, who shows how stupid they are.

      1. TiredOfHate Avatar

        You only prove what a satanic fool you are, by opening your mouth exposing your forked tongue.

      2. Kc Avatar

        The left is the compassionate side, you ignorant turd.

    4. Aaron Avatar

      STOP right there! There is NO NEED to bring hate mongring into this by referencing a specific individual that everyone knows your referring to when you use the name Donald as a slur!
      This is an issue of helping out and giving dignity back to some people in dire need, NOT a Platform for a political agenda!
      Why do you and others like you alway feel this overwhelming need to drive a wedge?

      1. Delpha Avatar

        How is this any different from the caravan of refugees from Mexico

      2. Alexander DeLarge Avatar
        Alexander DeLarge

        The judge made a ruling based on the word of law regarding required permits, everyone should stop making it a case of being a “liberal” or “conservative” ruling. If you don’t agree with the laws, then let’s discuss empowering the legislature to change the laws instead of insulting the justices who are sworn to uphold them.

      3. Gail Avatar

        Separate ourselves from bad people and their ideas is why we drive a wedge.do not want to be a bird if that feather. Their influence has cause ugly ness to be a virtue

      4. leigh Avatar

        Thankyou. Us and them ideas are the problem. The solution is all of us = interdependence

    5. Robert Avatar

      While the 11th Circuit overturns the District Court’s decision, look back at what the District Court ruled. It affirmed the right of the city for the group to require a permit to feed on the streets and follow regulations like any vendor must, free or paid. In that way they assure health code requirements for the food.
      The 11th’s decision was based on an effor by the district court on the 1A. Has nothing to do with motive, gratitude or sanitation.
      On the other hand Donald Trump is far more generous than most. He gives his salary, all $400,000 of it, back to the American people. The private example is that once helped by a couple when hus car broke down, he paid off their mortgage.
      So, while people may not like his manners or delivery, no reason to doubt his motives or results.

      1. Rob Avatar

        These homeless people are eating out of dumpsters… I’m sure a permit is gonna make all the difference to them.

      2. Stacy Avatar

        He doesnt need the 400k because he tanks the stock market with his anti apple or amazon…jas his friens in the business sector buy up low stocks then back tracks lile he does on everything stupid tjat comea out of his ignorant yap and rakes in cash wjen tje stocka go back up. He has made billions. Je is ko philanthropist

    6. William Smith Avatar
      William Smith

      Actually, no. He’s a liberal judge who doesn’t think the homeless should be fed in public. A conservative judge would have overruled the city and told them to basically go to hell.

      1. Carlos Avatar

        Not true bro.

    7. Velma Hampson Avatar
      Velma Hampson

      He wasn’t on a government payroll.

    8. Danny W Avatar
      Danny W

      Um no obozo.

    9. Damian Avatar

      Ft Lauderdale is Democrat held territory.

    10. Devo Avatar

      Cut the bullshit rhetoric. Ft. Lauderdale is a democrat stronghold

    11. Yooven Tayclue Avatar
      Yooven Tayclue

      No he was probably one of the northern red faced shits that took over the town.

    12. Troy Guffey Avatar
      Troy Guffey

      Nope, he was Obama’s cousin.

      1. Jesus Avatar

        Go fuck yourself, Troy, you fake piece of shit.

    13. Rikey Avatar

      2014 Must have been Obummers cousin.

    14. Enday Avatar

      Your comment Dana, is useless. If you gonna make some effort to write, its better be useful. Here’s the thing all this nonsense, it begun in the presidency of Borack! All the hatefulness, and racisms was awoken by the liberals and Democrats. So, zip up the lips.

  2. Ruth Avatar

    Thank you for informing us of this court case. Here in Canada so far a group from our Fellowship has been able to bring food to the inner city’s homeless. It has been increasingly more difficult in one of the locations to find a place to park the long truck and trailer a fellow of our group provides because of a mini-car rental company now using it for parking but otherwise no one from the City has tried to stop the feeding efforts. What a time is this when anyone would want to prevent kindness and gentleness from being done!!

    1. sgb Avatar

      I think it happens in more than one city. How cruel to deny these people food. I want to cry. Feeding the hungry must truly be the work of God.

  3. Randi Avatar

    Finally some common sense Ana decency!

    1. Smriti Avatar

      YES! Caps do not show anger, but do show prayers & support!

  4. Mike Avatar

    It’s unconstitutional because it ecroaches upon liberty. ^.<

    1. Devo Avatar

      Yup. Has zero to do with the 1st Amendment.

  5. JC Avatar

    This was a no brainer and should have never went to the court, does the city not understand what public property means.

    1. Karen Avatar

      No they don’t. Nor do they understand who pays their salaries.

    2. Lori Jacobs Avatar
      Lori Jacobs

      The city owns the public property (except for those areas state and federally owned) it’s their job to make laws about what can be done within city boundaries. For example in my city it is illegal to fire a gun. Although I haven’t looked into it, I assume self defense is excepted, but you can’t target shoot in your back yard or hunt rabbits within city boundaries.

      I’m in a smaller city in CA and we don’t have much in the way of property- my lot is less than 1/4 acre- so it’s a safety issue; the odds of shooting someone or something you don’t intend to are too high. There are unincorporated areas around our small city that are not subject to city laws, but only county and state etc. And these are the areas where people have more property (and are very wealthy to be able to do is, mostly.)

      So yes, the city can make laws for public property, and no, this one was not ok. I imagine there are few places in the country (I’d say none, but there are some wacko places) where you can target shoot at a neighborhood park with a playground!

      1. Rick Avatar

        No, the citizens own public property. That’s WHY it’s called public.

  6. Naomi Avatar

    The newspapers didn’t explain the ruling correctly. The ruling wasn’t that anyone has a Constitutionally-protected right to feed the homeless or share food. It was that feeding the homeless in a public place can be political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.

    1. Bob Rehbock Avatar
      Bob Rehbock

      I don’t see the distinction you are making. The ruling is supported by 1st amendment freedom of speech and religion so it does mean everyone has the same right of expression. Whether one feeds a homeless at one’s door or as a political action by a group is indifferent. Freedom of speech and religion are outside the right of governmento make law because that is express “ shall make no law”

    2. Mary Avatar

      Absolutely right!

    3. PAMELA DOBULER Avatar

      thank you for the clarification- big difference really

    4. Al Avatar

      That is a difference without a distinction.

    5. Scott Avatar

      Interesting, Naomi, and a little strange.
      I’d have thought a closer ruling from “freedom of association” than “freedom of speech.” After all, if I am allowed to share a sandwich (associate with) a child or spouse or co-worker, I can freely associate on the same terms (sharing a sandwich) with anybody with-or-without a home.
      Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the free speech angle. But generally, courts like to decide these things with more straightforward reasoning than “giving somebody something is speech,” if they can.
      In any case, looking up the case now.

      1. Jeff Avatar

        It’s not the handing over a food that is applicable to free speech it is the consistent Act of doing it in the presence of government infrastructure making the point that all poverty is caused by militarism.

  7. Russell A Carter Avatar
    Russell A Carter

    What ever happened to the Minister and Co?

  8. Miriam Smith Avatar
    Miriam Smith

    That’s not the ruling in the action opinion. The ruling is that feeding the homeless can be considered political speech, which is Constitutionally protected. This means that the lower court erred in saying that there was no First Amendment issue. That was what was on appeal.

    The article you cited also makes this mistake. However, it does no one any favors to intentionally misinterpret the law since America is rife with people who don’t understand the law or how the civil legal system works.

    1. Gary Avatar

      Odd, I thought the headline was misleading, as headlines so often are, but the article clearly explained what you stated. At least, it was clear to me.

  9. VAL Avatar

    It has NOTHING to do with the Trump family. SMH

  10. Maggie Barry Avatar
    Maggie Barry

    Great article Sara!

  11. Michael wauschek Avatar
    Michael wauschek

    I dnt see anything wrong with feeding the homeless. It not a crime to be homeless

  12. Mary Avatar

    Best news ever!!! My fiance and I own and operate a help tent and feed those less fortunate with a no questions asked policy BUT about a year ago the health department in the city (a city without clean drinkibg water) and a cop was going to arrest my fiance for 90 days for feeding the homeless and less fortunate!!! I am sooo greatful for this man!!! Flint City Pop Up Help Tent is our FB page..

  13. Pamela Altmeyer Alveyl Avatar
    Pamela Altmeyer Alveyl

    Finally! ❤️❤️❤️

  14. Anthony Brancato Avatar

    Has Social Darwinism really come this far? Apparently it has.

  15. Troy Clark Avatar

    I am glad to see this. It is really deserved. Now, what needs to happen, is that the government instead of bothering the people and harassing them, try to work with them to get the permits needed, and give them discounts for permits, since they are doing what is the right thing to do. Things the government should be doing with our tax dollars in the first place.
    Thank you to those who are helping and just being who you are. God Bless you and your family.

  16. Mitchell C Lance Avatar
    Mitchell C Lance

    Someday health code violations will not be ignored, there will be public restrooms everywhere not when ever and where ever. A free mental health Law for homeless may be great too. No hunting, grazing, camping, open fires, littering, and absolutely no drugs, alcohol, tobacco and when in New York sugar it would seem. Life is not a free ride it or is it?

  17. Raychel Avatar

    This is not JUST and it’s a descrace for the police to hide in their job instead of there cautiousness to what’s right and what’s wrong. The scapegoat of thier job allows the inforcrment of wrongfulness in our society! Serve and protect is just propaganda they choice to be a part of at times when it can fit in…..

  18. Michael McVey Avatar
    Michael McVey

    In addition to being an exercise of religion (as well as a form of speech), it is also an exercise of property rights. If a loaf of bread is mine and I want to give it to someone else, I have that right. The government has no right to set parameters on who I can give it to, either.

  19. Amber Loggan Avatar
    Amber Loggan

    If God can feed without permit why can’t anyone else. If the food is paid that’s all that should matter. We teach our kids sharing is caring. So why can’t we give food to the homeless? What message are we teaching our young generation, the next future?Caring shouldn’t have rules!

    1. golddgrphil Avatar

      Good point! I would Appeal to God, the Highest Court in the matter. A God granted Natural Right cannot be legislated by people.

  20. John O'Connor Avatar
    John O’Connor

    It’s a wonder the local gendarmerie didn’t try to shut down their operation on the grounds they were “violating health codes” by not having hot or running water, unlimited accessibility of rodents/pests to food products, waste management issues, etc. This is what Los Angeles tried to do to ethnic food vendors for a while.Imagine Manhattan with no street hot dog/pretzel/coffee vendors. Ridiculous! These idiot officials just didn’t care!

  21. Steph Avatar

    People do this in the city I grew up in. They were required to get a food services lisence, for regulation. Bit of a $ grab, but they do serve 100s/wk

  22. alucientes Avatar

    Gee, I wonder what the future’s gonna look like. #nightmare

  23. Ken Kushman Avatar
    Ken Kushman

    So cut off your nose to spite your face

    In an area supported by tourism, you make the area inviting to the paying customer.

    This kind of political activism is only meant to crash ther economy while hiding behind false philanthropy

  24. Gerald Sillivan Avatar
    Gerald Sillivan

    God bless Chef Arnold Abbott! In addition to feeding the homeless, he teaches the poor to become culinary workers and chefs. He has done more to help people than these politicians ever will.

    1. John Fagan Avatar
      John Fagan

      And not teaching with a political agenda. The trying to promote a redirect of military funds to support another handout program was the root cause of the courtroom battle to begin with. IMHO.

  25. Jason Avatar

    In 1994 the city of arcata, California sued, in civil court, food not bombs for violating CURFFL. The California uniform retail food facility law. In 1996 the city elected the first green party majority to it’s council and the first act of business was to drop the lawsuit.

  26. Jessie Avatar

    What a horrible job to have to do. When your boss tells you to “shut it down,” you don’t have much choice, but that doesn’t mean they like it. I feel bad for the officers, and for the homeless, but trying to shame the policemen and women who are doing their job isn’t really fair. Fortunately, someone took it to court, and the courts are now saying it’s unconstitutional to stop it. THAT is wonderful!

  27. Jj Avatar

    In kansas city the health department confiscated meals being given out at a park and doused the food with bleach so it couldn’t be eaten..

    1. Mark P. Kessinger Avatar
      Mark P. Kessinger

      @Jj — That is an example of pathological cruelty.

  28. Brittman Avatar

    I’m sure Donald Trump would approve and donate to feeding the hungry to make America greater.

    1. Anne Mayo Avatar
      Anne Mayo

      Are you on drugs? Trump wouldn’t donate one cent! And if it was anywhere near his properties, he would have them tear-gassed!!!

  29. Adl Avatar

    Police are such puppets.

  30. AmandaTrebiano Avatar

    Yet the same kind of group was raided in Kansas City and bleach poured all over perfectly good food by the city government Nazis.

  31. Jeff Avatar

    It’s not the handing over a food that is applicable to free speech it is the consistent Act of doing it in the presence of government infrastructure making the point that all poverty is caused by militarism.

  32. Yuki Togawa Avatar
    Yuki Togawa

    Food not Bomb
    Uses a feeding site to make political statements. Their tables are full of materials of factual figure breakdown of Department of Defense and what kind of nonsense lavish military spending we are tolerating.

    It is usually lead by a socially responsible chef or cooking school.teacher that empower the poverty struck population, helping them get to a some kind of cuisine vocational training

    What’s amazing is that it is all over the WORLD and 100% volunteers only. All donated materials and funding goes straight into the pot.

    Charitable free kitchen have issues with them because it takes away their clients and these organizations are reliant on grants that pay for the employees checks.I’d rather go buy vegetables and donate to Food not Bomb than to the other free kitchen because the money doesn’t go into the pot.

    An Abbott has religious freedom.

    Political activists have freedom of speech

    Those police officers and judges should be exiled to live in Saudi Arabia. They will be just fine over there.

  33. Carol Avatar

    My thoughts were the City’s actions were disgraceful. Fort Lauderdale has redeemed itself. They are placing their homeless in homes.

  34. Neal Pattison Avatar
    Neal Pattison

    OK, everyone who responded with partisan zingers …..
    There seems to be a shortage of civic awareness on both sides of the issue.
    As often happens, the court is being asked to balanced to competing claims:
    — The city says it has an obligation to public health and public order to require permits relating to food handling and gatherings in municipal spaces.
    — The charities have the right to use public spaces for political expression and religious practice.
    The courts are being asked to decide which of these claims gets priority.
    The ruling doesn’t reflect left-wing sympathies any more than a opposite ruling wold have reflected authoritarian persecution.
    In fact, claims based on constitution claims usually outweigh claims based on administrative rules and local laws.
    As engaged citizens, we can wait and see where this case goes. And, in the process, appreciate the job the court doeos.

  35. Jerry Avatar

    Just like there is no freedom to shout FIRE in a crowed theater, there are societal limits on all freedoms. The classic expression is that your freedom ends where my nose begins. While I am all for feeding and clothing those in need and have done so countless times in my life, I think the judge got this one wrong. If I as an individual take food to one person in the public square, nothing much happens except that person goes to sleep with a full belly. If on the other hand, there is an organization that is operating what amounts to a free food truck in the public square, hungry people will find it and soon I one can use that public space because I will be full of hungry people waiting to be fed. This reduces everyone’s enjoyment of the public square. A much better plan instead of filing a law suit to force the issue the group should have worked with the city to locate a space nearby where they could set up shop. The hungry people would recocate to the nearby area and everyone could be happy. Under the judge’s order, no one will be happy. The hungry will
    come and stay since they have no better place to be. Then others now visiting the area will leave and finally, the businesses in the area leave. Welcome to a new slum.

  36. John Bradford Avatar
    John Bradford

    I want to know how the government distinguishes between the hard up and the homeless ‘on the spot’ as far as who can be fed. Exactly who can be fed when they are hungry should be the whole point of this issue. How can a government as so-called great turn their backs on those less fortunate for reasons that they know nothing about. “Nobody knows how much anyone else is hurting. We could be standing next to someone who is completely broken and we’d never know. So, be kind always. With yourself and others.” This applies to the hungry as well. Does someone have to beg for food to be considered homeless? Why haven’t they been offered food instead of having to beg for it, losing whatever dignity they may have left according to their situation?