An Arkansas law prohibiting panhandling is a violation of freedom of speech, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Wednesday, reports Courthouse News Service. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas sued the state on behalf of Michael Rodgers and Glynn Dilbeck, who were prosecuted and convicted of loitering with intent to beg under state law. Rodgers is a disabled veteran; Dilbeck is homeless. A lower court judge in 2017 called the law “plainly unconstitutional” and said the state had failed to “satisfy the rigorous constitutional standards that apply when government attempts to regulate expression based on its content.”
Arkansas argued to the Eighth Circuit that the had not chilled the defendants’ speech. Rodgers’ lawyer said he was forced to beg in the rural areas more often than in the city and must hide his sign at times. The law allowed for the arrest and prosecution of anyone standing or remaining “for the purpose of asking for anything as charity or a gift” in “an aggressive or threatening manner.” The ACLU said the law is a content-based restriction, given arrests depend solely on the content of one’s speech. Only if a person is “loitering” for the purpose of asking for charity or a gift could they be prosecuted.