The City of Portland should not be in the business of telling people where they can and cannot exercise their constitutional rights, and it should certainly not be banning speech in an area that has traditionally been used as a forum for public dialogue.
Those words from ACLU of Maine Legal Director Zachary Heiden were affirmed yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal in a ruling that tossed out a Portland ordinance prohibiting panhandlers — and anyone else — from standing on city median strips. While Portland sought to defend its ordinance as necessary to protect the public safety of pedestrians and drivers, the Court rejected the city’s argument that this ordinance is necessary to accomplish that goal.
Hopefully our victory in Portland will pose a significant deterrent to other cities or towns considering similar restrictions on the First Amendment.
The Portland Press Herald perhaps said it best:
The ordinance that was drafted as a result turned out to be a waste of time and city resources. Poverty was the correct problem to address, but this was the wrong response.
Mayor Michael Brennan and members of the City Council should use this opportunity to call attention to the economic stresses that lead to panhandling and work to address the real problems and not their symptoms.