Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Churches Challenge Philadelphia's Ban On Feeding Programs In Parks

In Pennsylvania, a group of churches and church leaders have filed suit in federal district court challenging the constitutionality of regulations and policies adopted by Philadelphia's city government in anticipation of the opening of the Barnes Foundation's relocated art collection in downtown Philadelphia.  The new regulations operate to close down the churches' decade-long programs of feeding of the homeless outdoors in Philadelphia's public parks.  The complaint (full text) in Chosen 300 Ministries, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, (ED PA, filed 6/5/2012), alleges that these governmental actions were designed to remove the food program and homeless persons from the vicinity of a new art gallery in order to bolster the city's public image.  Plaintiffs claim the city's action violate their 1st Amendment free exercise and free speech rights, as well as their rights under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act. The complaint claims that the regulations target religiously sponsored feeding programs, while creating exceptions to permit social, family or business picnics, and  outdoor commercial food service. The ACLU issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.