City repeals its panhandling ordinance and settles lawsuit with ACLU of Missouri

JOPLIN, Mo. – The city of Joplin has repealed a panhandling law that the ACLU of Missouri said violated the First Amendment rights of pedestrians on its streets.

The settlement follows a lawsuit filed the city of Joplin by the ACLU on behalf of Christopher Snyder.

In 2018, the Joplin City Council amended its ordinances related to panhandling and enacted new, unconstitutional restrictions that required panhandlers and solicitors to stay 150 feet from intersections near streets with speed limits over 35 mph or on a median separating traffic at any such intersection.

Snyder was approached by a police officer and told that he could be arrested under the new restrictions.

After being threatened with arrest, Snyder, who panhandles to survive, was so scared that he would be arrested that he left Joplin. In doing so, he left an opportunity to find stable housing through a local organization.

“I’m so glad that no one in Joplin will have to experience what I did, just trying to survive another day,” said Snyder. “I hope the city of Joplin will think twice about making laws that violate the people’s right to express their freedom of speech.”

After Snyder lost his job in 2016, he became homeless. As he struggled to get back on his feet financially, he ended up in Joplin and found an organization that could help them get stable housing. To survive while he struggled to find stable housing, he needed to panhandle for donations.  Unfortunately, because he was driven out of Joplin after his interactions with the police, he was unable to take advantage of this program.

“We are pleased the city of Joplin fixed its code once it recognized it unlawfully restricted the free speech rights of Missourians,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “Every person should be able to express their First Amendment rights without fear of arrest.”

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