City Council should tell ACLU to take a long walk on a short pier
It’s decision time for the City of Grand Junction.
The question — how should the City Council respond to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit asking a federal judge to block a newly passed ordinance that would curb aggressive panhandling in Grand Junction?
The ACLU claims that the anti-panhandling measure is a violation of the First Amendment, and has asked a federal judge to halt the measure before it takes effect Sunday.
I’m not a lawyer, but here’s how I think the City Council should respond:
Go to hell.
See you in court.
The city of Grand Junction
I’m not sure that’s the appropriate legal terminology. Maybe it would be more appropriate to tell the ACLU to pound judicial sand, or to take a long walk on a short legal pier. As I said, I’m not a lawyer. John Shaver, the longtime attorney for the city of Grand Junction, will know the best way to parlay those sentiments into an official response to plaintiffs.
But whatever the precise legal translation, this much is certain — the ACLU is a bunch of bullies, and Grand Junction should swing back, and hard.
Because the ACLU lawsuit is unambiguous nonsense.
Here’s how our friends in the Sentinel newsroom described the ordinance yesterday. You tell me whether it seems like the shocking constitutional infringement that the ACLU asserts.
Under the ordinance “…panhandlers could not ask for money a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise; they cannot repeatedly request donations or ask for them in an obscene or fighting manner or by grabbing another person; and they cannot ask for money from others within 100 feet of an automated teller machine, a public bus stop or a public school.
“Solicitors would be banned from asking for money from motorists on public roadways ... Solicitors could not knowingly ask for donations from an at-risk person, which is defined as someone over age 70 or under age 16, or who has a disability.”
Sounds reasonable, huh? Not to the ACLU. They say the ordinance tramples on the rights of free expression endowed on us by the Creator.
The ACLU’s contention is, of course, laughable.
The right to approach a car in the middle of the street and ask for cash is no more protected speech under the First Amendment than is my right to turn a cart-wheel in the middle of North Avenue while wearing a T-shirt that says “Al Gore sucks.”
Yes, Al Gore does in fact suck. And I, of course, have every right to say so. I just don’t have the right to say so while turning a cartwheel in North Avenue. It’s called public safety, and the City of Grand Junction has a right to look after it.
By the same token, I don’t have the right to get in an elderly woman’s face and repeat over and over again: “Al Gore sucks, Al Gore sucks, Al Gore sucks.” That is called harassment, and the city of Grand Junction has every responsibility to prevent it.
The city’s panhandling ordinance is cut from the same cloth.
Panhandlers can still panhandle, they just can’t harass the elderly or the disabled. And they can’t panhandle in the middle of the street, or in front of a school bus.
Only the wingnuts at the ACLU would find a policy as benign as this objectionable. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.
This is, after all, the ACLU — the same ACLU that sues governments all the time for the great and grievous crime of displaying nativity scenes; the same ACLU that for years has fought efforts to enact tough minimum prison sentences for child rapists; the same ACLU that led the fight last year to circumvent the death sentence of Chuck-E-Cheese mass murderer Nathan Dunlap; the same ACLU that is currently suing to prevent a Douglas County student with autism-spectrum disorder from receiving state funds to attend a private school especially suited to help the young boy overcome his disability. Yes, the same ACLU best-known in the last decade for trying to broaden the rights of the world’s most notorious terrorists, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohamed and, more recently, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber.
I guess no one should be surprised by anything the ACLU does. But that doesn’t mean the city of Grand Junction should back down. The City Council should instruct its lawyer to get going on that response to the ACLU plaintiffs. In my book, any variation of “take a long walk on a short pier” will suffice.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He graduated from Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.