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ACLU Sues Joplin For Violating First Amendment Rights - KOAM TV 7

ACLU Sues Joplin For Violating First Amendment Rights

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"I was so scared of being arrested that my wife and I left Joplin and lost an opportunity to find stable housing through an organization," said Christopher Snyder, the plaintiff in the case. "Our rights shouldn't be threatened because we asked for help."

The ACLU of Missouri announced today that they filed a lawsuit against the city of Joplin for violating the First Amendment rights of a man panhandling to survive.

According to the ACLU, after Christopher Snyder lost his job in 2016, he and his wife became homeless. The organizations release states that "as they struggled to get back on their feet financially, the Snyders were forced to live out of their car and earned what they could to survive from asking for donations from strangers."

On February 5th, Joplin City Council members approved an ordinance they hoped would decrease the number of panhandlers near intersections. City officials said the ordinance would prohibit solicitors within 150 feet of any intersection where speeds are 35 mph or greater. KOAM/FOX 14 spoke with a panhandler, police officer and resident about the ordinance. Click here to see that story.

The ACLU says that same month, "Christopher Snyder was issued an official warning by Joplin police for panhandling within 150 feet of an intersection the officer believed was covered by the ordinance. The officer told Snyder a second violation would result in a ticket, and a third violation would mean arrest. Later the same day, Snyder was again approached near another intersection and told that panhandling was not permitted in the city. Fearing an arrest, he and his wife left Joplin."

"Recently, the Snyders had found an organization in Joplin that they believed could help them get stable housing. Unfortunately, the couple was unable to take advantage of this program because they feared arrest or getting ticketed under the panhandling ordinance. To survive while they applied for the housing program, they needed to panhandle for donations" states the ACLU.

"Joplin's code unlawfully restricts the free speech rights of Missourians," ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. "Just because the city doesn't like what people say in public doesn't give it the right to make content-based restrictions on our First Amendment rights."

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