The Rutherford Institute, which fights battles on behalf of individuals whose rights have been compromised by government, is warning Kansas City its recent crackdown on a food giveaway violated the First Amendment.
In a letter on Wednesday to Health Department Director Rex Archer, the institute’s John Whitehead explained:
“The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs v. City of Fort Lauderdale that a food sharing initiative carried out by private citizens without a permit and not for profit is explicitly protected by the First Amendment.
“The 11th Circuit reasoned that sharing food in a public park, which is a traditional public forum, combined with the pressing concern about caring for the homeless in a community point to a clear background and context which establish a basis of expression of values and ideas, meaning such action is protected by the First Amendment,” he said.
What happened in Kansas City?
Whitehead explained, “On Nov. 4, 2018, after monitoring social media posts for possible violations, a group of inspectors from the Kansas City Health Department descended onto multiple public parks across the city and simultaneously shut down large picnics organized by a group of concerned private citizens, operating under the name ‘Free Hot Soup Kansas City,’ who were serving free food to homeless and hungry people without a permit.”
The group is just a team “of private citizens.”
The inspectors cited concerns over health code violations and “seized the food, threw it in a trash bin, and doused it in bleach to prevent recovery and consumption by the homeless citizens of Kansas City. The inspctors also threatened further legal action against the picnic organizers.”
Lost were pots of home-cooked chili, stacks of sandwiches wrapped in foil and vats of soup.
The letter pointed out that the health agency had other, “less harsh,” avenues to pursue even if it had concerns about health.
“Namely checking the food, or issuing a guide to help private citizens maintain food heat without requiring excessive and onerous food prep classes and training,” he wrote.
“The Health Department owes both Free Hot Soup Kansas City and the area homeless an apology for its actions,” he wrote. “Better yet, the Health Department should work with Free Hot Soup Kansas to facilitate the work of those … providing aid to the homeless.”
The actions the city took, Rutherford reported, are “morally reprehensible, legally indefensible, and in clear violation of the First Amendment.”
“Here’s a prime example of how out of whack things have become that government officials would go so far as to confiscate large quantities of food being served to homeless people and soak them in bleach, rendering them inedible, and then suggest that it’s better to allow the homeless to starve than risk them getting sick from a food-borne illness since many have no health insurance,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
“There are people in this country who are homeless, hungry and in need of any small act of kindness, so why is the government placing bureaucratic roadblocks in the path of those who want to help? I’m sorry, but this isn’t just misguided government officials run amok. This is evil disguised as bureaucracy.”
The institute’s letter said it “stands ready to assist.”