The First Amendment Protection of Charitable Speech

Joseph Mead, Cleveland State University


Although philanthropy ranks among the best of human endeavors, local governments across the country have severely restricted charitable entreaties by organizations and individuals alike, all in the name of eliminating "panhandlers." These laws rely on premises that increasingly conflict with Supreme Court instructions about the freedom of speech. Yet lingering uncertainty about where exactly charitable restrictions fall in First Amendment jurisprudence has encouraged local governments to innovate new statutory formulations to wage war on expressions of poverty in order to "clean up" their cities. This piece examines seven arguments commonly used to justify restrictions on charitable solicitations and finds them to be without Constitutional merit. The First Amendment firmly and emphatically protects requests for altruism.