Source: The Rutherford Institute
November 21, 2108
The Rutherford Institute is warning Kansas health department officials that their recent efforts to shut down food distribution sites in public parks and seize and bleach hot, free food being distributed to the homeless, rendering it unfit for consumption, runs afoul of the First Amendment. In a letter to the director of the Kansas City Health Department, The Rutherford Institute denounced the government’s actions as “morally reprehensible, legally indefensible, and in clear violation of the First Amendment,” and cautioned health officials against following the national trend by which urban and suburban communities nationwide have adopted ordinances that criminalize homelessness and crack down on those individuals and organizations whose charitable endeavors aim to ease the suffering of the homeless.
“Here’s a prime example of how out of whack things have become that government officials would go so far as to confiscate large quantities of food being served to homeless people and soak them in bleach, rendering them inedible, and then suggest that it’s better to allow the homeless to starve than risk them getting sick from a food-borne illness since many have no health insurance,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “There are people in this country who are homeless, hungry and in need of any small act of kindness, so why is the government placing bureaucratic roadblocks in the path of those who want to help? I’m sorry, but this isn’t just misguided government officials run amok. This is evil disguised as bureaucracy.”
On November 4, 2018, after monitoring social media posts for possible violations, a group of inspectors from the Kansas City Health Department descended onto multiple public parks across the city and simultaneously shut down large picnics organized by a group of concerned private citizens, operating under the name “Free Hot Soup Kansas City,” who were serving free food to homeless and hungry people without a permit. Free Hot Soup Kansas City is neither an establishment nor a non-profit, but a group of private citizens banding together to help the needy. Citing concerns over violations to city ordinances as well as the risk of keeping food at an unsafe temperature, the health department inspectors seized the food, threw it in a trash bin, and doused it in bleach to prevent recovery and consumption by the homeless citizens of Kansas City. The inspectors also threatened further legal action against the picnic organizers. The free food, prepared by Free Hot Soup Kansas City, consisted of pots of home-cooked chili, stacks of sandwiches wrapped in foil, and vats of soup, among other foods. According to Health Department public statements, the inspectors claimed to be protecting the public health and preventing food-borne illness. The actions by the food inspectors, clearly intended to discourage the Free Hot Soup picnics, which have been growing in size as the winter months have neared, coincide with a spur of legislation to criminalize aspects of homelessness, for example by prohibiting use of shopping carts on the streets and panhandling, both of which are commonly associated with homelessness.
In advocating for the right of the Free Hot Soup organizers to engage in public acts of charity, Rutherford Institute attorneys pointed to a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs v. City of Fort Lauderdale that a food sharing initiative carried out by private citizens without a permit and not for profit is explicitly protected by the First Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit reasoned that sharing food in a public park, which is a traditional public forum, combined with the pressing concern about caring for the homeless in a community point to a clear background and context which establish a basis of expression of values and ideas, meaning such action is protected by the First Amendment.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute.
Founded in 1982 by constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute has become one of the nation’s leading advocates of civil liberties and human rights, litigating in the courts and educating the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting individual freedom in the United States and around the world.
The Institute’s mission is twofold: to provide legal services in the defense of civil liberties and to educate the public on important issues affecting their constitutional freedoms. The Institute provides its legal services at no charge to those whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.
In Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the follow-up to his award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead paints a terrifying portrait of a nation at war with itself and on the verge of undermining and destroying the basic freedoms guaranteed to all citizens in the Constitution.
In John W. Whitehead’s fictional The Erik Blair Diaries: Battlefield of the Dead, the dystopian future that George Orwell predicted for 1984 has finally arrived, 100 years late and ten times as brutal. To save all that he loves, Orwell will have to travel between his future self—Erik Blair, Orwell’s descendant and unwitting heir to his legacy—and the past. In this post-apocalyptic world where everyone marches to the beat of the same drummer, Blair—a young man earmarked for a future of compliance and servitude—isn’t volunteering to be anyone’s hero. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go according to plan.