Thursday, July 08, 2010

11th Circuit Upholds Limits on Feeding Large Groups In Parks

In First Vagabonds Church of God v. City of Orlando, (11th Cir., July 6, 2010), the 11th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the district court (see prior posting) and upheld Orlando, Florida's Large Group Feeding Ordinance against a variety of constitutional attacks. The Ordinance requires a permit to feed more than 25 people in any downtown park, and limits a group to two permits per park in a 12 month period. It was challenged by Food Not Bombs, an activist group that feeds the poor, and by a church that holds Sunday services (including the sharing of food) in a downtown city park. The majority held that the feeding activities do not amount to symbolic expression under the First Amendment because a reasonable observer would not see them as communicative. It rejected a Free Exercise challenge, finding the Ordinance to be a neutral law of general applicability that serves a rational basis. It rejected void-for-vagueness and equal protection challenges. Finally it concluded that the law does not violate the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it does not substantially burden the church's exercise of its religious belief in sharing food during services. Judge Barrett dissented, arguing that the activist group's activities are expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.