Just days after Phoenix reversed its ban on a Christian woman’s distribution of free bottled water in 112-degree heat, a nearby city has ticketed a woman for giving food to the hungry.
“Once again, we find ourselves in the inexplicable position of actually having to protect Americans from a governmental bureaucracy intent on asserting its authority, even to the detriment of such fundamental First Amendment rights as free speech, free exercise of religion and assembly,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
Whitehead’s organization has written a letter to Glendale, Ariz., City Attorney Craig Tindall about the dispute involving Mildred Ramirez. The letter contends the city’s action to prevent her from distributing free food “constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment.”
“Unfortunately, this is all part of the ongoing breakdown in representative government that has landed us with a mess of vague laws criminalizing the most innocuous activities, such as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing food with the needy,” Whitehead said.
In his letter to the city attorney, Whitehead argues that in addition to violating the woman’s 14th Amendment rights, the city has violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion, because Rameriz was distributing the food as a “manifestation of her sincerely held religious beliefs.”
He also cited Arizona’s Freedom of Religious Exercise Act and the Religious Land use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“This unjustified order by a city official requiring Ms. Ramirez to cease lawful activity undertaken in exercise of her religious faith constitutes a substantial burden on her religious exercise that is not the least restrictive means of furthering any compelling government interest,” Whitehead writes. “Indeed, it is unclear that the order serves any legitimate interest whatever.”
Whitehead’s letter seeks an apology for the woman and assurances in writing that no city officials will interfere in the future with her charitable distribution of food. It also seeks training for law enforcement officials in the First Amendment.
The letter followed the city’s alleged warning to Ramirez “that she would be considered a criminal if she continued to use the driveway of her private residence to distribute free food to area families.”
For seven years, she has collected donations from area grocers. She makes the food available to needy families by setting up temporary shelves in her driveway.
“Glendale officials insist that Ramirez is violating the Glendale City Code by storing materials outside her home, citing her charitable activities as being an ‘illegal home occupation,’ an ‘illegal land use,’ and as unlawfully lacking a ‘business license,'” the Institute said.
The city has been issuing “compliance notices” to her, citing code demands that “no person shall place and/or store furniture … in a location that is visible to a person standing upon any public street or sidewalk.”
“Were the provision properly interpreted as city officials have applied it to Ms. Ramirez, then it could also be used to outlaw tables used for occasional lemonade stands and yard sales, as well as items regularly used outdoors in residential neighborhoods – garden hoses, lawn tools, watering cans, signage, picnic blankets and baskets, children’s toys, bicycles, etc.,” the Rutherford said.
WND reported earlier this month the public backlash that erupted when a Phoenix inspector banned a Christian from giving away bottles of water on a hot day to passersby at a “First Friday” festival. The outcry prompted city officials to drop the restriction.
The Rutherford Institute, which announced the victory, had intervened on behalf of Dana Crow-Smith, a Christian who explained she was following the biblical instruction of Matthew 10:42 to do small acts of kindness.
She chose to hand out bottles of cold water to passersby during a city festival when the temperatures reached 112 degrees.
But she was ordered to stop by a city inspector, who said she was required to obtain a vendor’s permit. But the institute pointed out that not only did the action violate Crow-Smith’s statutory and First Amendment rights as well as Fourteenth Amendment rights, but vending in the city is defined as “peddling, vending, selling, displaying, or offering for sale” items.
She was giving away the water, the institute noted.
City council members struck the ordinance, voting unanimously to create an exception to the city’s policy of requiring a “Mobile Vendor Permit” for persons selling goods on public streets.
“This victory in Phoenix shows that one person can stand up and change government for the better,” said Whitehead. “This is proof that the democratic process not only can work but is working, provided that Americans care enough to take a stand and make their discontent heard.