FJI has filed a lawsuit against Columbia County challenging a pair of County Ordinances that prohibit solicitation and loitering on all County property with a building on it. The Ordinances have the effect of prohibiting solicitors from the Homeless Voice newsletter from distributing newspapers and requesting donations in front of the County Courthouse and Administration buildings. Because requesting donations is protected speech, the lawsuit contends that the solicitation provision violates the First Amendment, and that the loitering provision is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The suit seeks an immediate declaration that the law violates the First Amendment.
The Homeless Voice is a newsletter operated by a nonprofit that seeks to spread awareness of issues affecting the homeless population. Its solicitors distribute the newspaper and simultaneously request donations, and did so peacefully outside the Columbia County Courthouse and Administration Buildings. However, dissatisfied with their presence, the County passed two ordinances that prohibit the Homeless Voice from soliciting or standing on public property without an apparent purpose.
“The County cannot silence speech because they disfavor it or they think it causes discomfort,” said Ray Taseff, lead attorney with FJI. “The First Amendment guarantees the people’s ability to communicate their message, especially on public property that is a traditional public forum.”
The ordinances are so broad that they prohibit asking anyone for anything on County property with a building, or merely just being on that property without an apparent purpose. They would prohibit asking for money, votes, or directions, and also would prohibit sitting on a bench.
“All too often, these types of ordinances are used to criminalize people experiencing homelessness,” said Dante P. Trevisani, FJI’s Legal Director. “But a criminal justice strategy is counterproductive.”
This lawsuit is part of FJI’s effort to end the criminalization of poverty in the state of Florida.
The case is Cosac Foundation v. Columbia County, Case No. 23-cv-01499 in the Middle District of Florida. For more information, contact Ray Taseff, email@example.com, 305-586-4502.