ACLU sues Fort Collins over panhandling ordinance

February 10, 2015
Photo: Fort Collins panhandler
Jeffrey Alan is plaintiff on a ACLU lawsuit against the city of Fort Collins over its law banning some forms of panhandling. Alan is "homeless, disabled, and poor. To pay for basic necessities, Mr. Alan sometimes solicits donations from passersby on public sidewalks," the ACLU's complaint says.

The Colorado branch of American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday in Denver's federal district court on behalf of four homeless people and several other parties. They claim that Fort Collins police have issued "dozens and dozens" of citations to poor people publicly soliciting donations. 

"For years, the targets of this enforcement campaign have overwhelmingly been poor persons who are engaged in solicitation that is courteous, polite, nonthreatening and nonaggressive," the ACLU's complaint says.

"Their requests for charity pose no risk to public safety, and their communications requesting assistance are squarely protected by the First Amendment."

The city's website says "panhandling is protected speech under the First Amendment and is legal in Fort Collins" except in certain circumstances. The law bans panhandling done in an "intimidating" manner, at night, and near bus stops, ATMs, and cars.

But the ACLU believes the law is too broad.

“The ACLU does not object to a narrowly and carefully tailored ordinance that targets truly threatening, coercive or menacing behavior that actually interferes with the rights of others, but Fort Collins has gone too far,” ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a statement. 

Greenpeace is also a party to the lawsuit. Police recently warned the non-profit environmental organization's street canvassers that they were violating city law.

The lawsuit requests an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the law, and for the law to be declared unconstitutional.

A representative from the Fort Collins city attorney's office wasn't immediately available to comment.

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