Friday, January 18, 2008

West Palm FNB Sues City Over Anti-Food Sharing Law

Homeless advocates sue City of West Palm Beach to feed homeless

By Dianna Cahn | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2:57 PM EST, December 26, 2007

West Palm Beach - Two groups that feed the homeless in downtown parks filed a lawsuit against the city of West Palm Beach on Wednesday protesting the legality of a law that has banned those feedings.

A Sept. 24 ordinance passed by the City Commission bans free distribution of food to the homeless in three downtown parks: Centennial Square which is in front of the public library at the bottom of Clematis Street; Meyer Ampitheater, which is a block away on Flagler Drive; and Currie Park.

The lawsuit argues that the law is unconstitutional and violates people's rights to freely assemble and to freely excercise their religious beliefs. It asks the court to intervene for both a temporary injunction to suspend the law until a ruling is reached and a permanent one finding the measure unlawful.

The locations are where two groups -- the non-religious Food Not Bombs and the Art and Compassion ministry -- hold their weekly feedings.

When the law was enacted, Mayor Lois Frankel the and city commissioners said they were responding to complaints of struggling downtown business owners who said the feedings created a disturbance downtown with panhandlers and occasional drug using. The city offered the groups to hold their feedings in local churches.

The groups argued that it was unfair to force them to operate from someone else's church. The city was just trying to sweep the homeless out of sight, they argued.

"The mayor said she offered to meet with (the groups) but she didn't," said Barry Silver, attorney for Food Not Bombs who filed the lawsuit with lawyer Sherri Renner, counsel for Art and Compassion. "We asked to meet with the city and they never accepted. [Frankel] listened to the business community. But to the homeless community, she turned a deaf ear."


Homeless advocacy groups sue West Palm Beach


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH — Taking a swipe at Mayor Lois Frankel's recent travails with grand jury investigations, two groups that feed the needy sued the city today, claiming its three-month-old ordinance that outlaws their activity is unconstitutional, vague and overbroad.

Saying the feeding ban institutes a "pay to pray" system in the city, the groups claim their rights to feed the down-trodden in front of the library and at Meyer Amphitheater are just as important as charitable work done by those who can afford to build churches and other buildings.

"Those who can pay for a building or pay money for the mayor's special projects or charities are granted the permission to pray and practice their religion as they see fit, but those who lack the funds to own a building. . . are told to go inside another's church in order to carry out their sacred duties outside the public view," says the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

Frankel, who pushed for the homeless feeding measure, was recently cleared of any wrongdoing by a second grand jury that investigated whether a "pay to play" existed in City Hall. The suspicion, that both grand juries decided was a perception rather than reality, was that developers had to donate to the two-term mayor's campaign or favorite causes to do business in the city.

The two groups that filed the lawsuit are Art and Compassion and Food Not Bombs. While Food Not Bombs is secular, Art and Compassion views feeding the poor as part of their religious obligation to honor God.

Frankel was not immediately available for comment.