OMAHA, Neb – Today the ACLU of Nebraska released a statement related to panhandling ordinances in Omaha. For over three years the organization has been negotiating with the City Attorney’s office about a panhandling ordinance the city has acknowledged is unconstitutional. In spite of repeated assurances from the City Attorney’s office, the Omaha Police Department have again ticketed someone for engaging in the constitutionally protected act of asking for money. Omaha’s panhandling ordinance has been the subject of recent city council discussions, but the city council has yet to either repeal or replace the existing ordinance.
Statement from ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director, Danielle Conrad
Days before people gather to give thanks for what they have and to share goodwill with others, another Omaha resident has been ticketed simply for asking for help. Anti-begging laws that punish that most vulnerable segment of our society are not only harsh, they are unconstitutional. No one should be thrown in jail or subjected to a fine for holding up a sign or simply asking for spare change. Our municipalities cannot and should not use the force of law to silence the voices of innocent people who rely on charity to survive. The First Amendment protects the rights of all people, regardless of economic circumstances or social status, to make peaceful, non-threatening requests for charity. The ACLU of Nebraska will continue to be in contact with advocates for individuals experiencing homelessness. Because of assurances from the city, the ACLU of Nebraska has not yet filed suit. The city should be aware that the ACLU has approved litigation and that if this situation is not resolved immediately, we will take appropriate legal action to protect the First Amendment rights of those in Omaha.