Is giving food to homeless people a crime?
That question could be decided in federal court now that a Missouri pastor is suing the city of St. Louis, after he was ticketed for providing nourishment to those in need.
According to the Riverfront Times, Rev. Ray Redlich and Chris Ohnimus regularly hand out bologna sandwiches as they travel through the city to pray with others and distribute Christian literature.
"We minister to people,"said Redlich, who helped run the New Life Evangelistic Center homeless shelter before the city shut it down.
But on Oct. 31, the pair was surrounded by four police cars along with officers on bikes who issued them a court summons for illegally feeding the homeless.
Police also handed them a brochure stating, "The City of St. Louis Department of Health wants to ensure that the homeless receive wholesome and safe food."
The lawsuit claims the actual purpose for the city's crackdown is to funnel homeless people toward "parts of town where their existence will be less noticeable."
Attorney Dave Roland of the Freedom Center of Missouri represents the duo, and says "the city doesn't crack down on barbecues, church potlucks, tailgates, [or] parents bringing snacks for school kids," reported the Times.
Though the city did not pursue its original charge against the men, Roland told the paper: "Mr. Ohnimus and Mr. Redlich didn't have the option of skipping court."
The legal action is seeking a decree stating city codes that ban handing out food violates the civil rights of people providing help to the homeless.
City Counselor Julian Bush gave the paper a statement on the city's position, saying:
"People want to be protected by their governments from unsafe food, and at the same time be free of officious meddling by governments in their personal affairs. It is sometimes difficult to draw the line between providing adequate protection and imposing too much red tape.
"If these sandwiches had poisoned those who consumed them there would have been an outcry that there was insufficient regulation; if not, there is a protest of over-regulation. But the difficult task of drawing that line is confided to elected officials, and there is nothing in the constitution that tells those officials where they must draw the line. The city expects to prevail in the litigation."