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Ohio State Law Journal Furthermore


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.

Local efforts to eradicate panhandling vary dramatically across the nation, but there are a few common themes. To begin, local governments expansively define "panhandling" to include any solicitation by an individual or an organization for an immediate donation without offering something of equivalent value in exchange. Some local governments prohibit such solicitation in groups of two or more or on sidewalks within a buffer zone around certain areas, such as near sports stadiums, bus stops, streets, or commercial establishments. Other local governments require registration before solicitation can begin, and bar those with certain minor convictions from obtaining registration. Given their doubtful premises and the strong Constitutional protection given to pleas for altruism, all of these efforts to reduce panhandling stand on constitutionally perilous grounds.