Religious groups sue city over Fairmount Park feeding ban

Several religious groups who feed homeless people on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway have sued the city of Philadelphia for its Fairmount Park feeding ban.

The city began enforcing the ban on June 1, prohibiting the feeding of three or more people in city-owned parks. Those who repeatedly violate the ban are subject to fines.

The complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania, argues that the regulation is unconstitutional because it violates the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freely exercise religion. It seeks a judgment declaring the policy unconstitutional and an injunction to stop the city from enforcing the ban.

Mayor Michael Nutter announced the ban in March, citing concerns about health and dignity. Those interested in continuing their feeding programs would have to provide the meals on the City Hall apron.

While Nutter is not the first to try to curtail feeding of the homeless, the timing of the regulation coincided with the opening of the Barnes Foundation facility on the Parkway, which opponents claim is the real impetus.

The complaint was filed by Paul Messing of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing and Feinberg, which specializes in civil rights litigation, the American Civil Liberties Union and attorney Seth Kreimer. The plaintiffs are Chosen 300 Ministries, The Welcome Church, The King’s Jubilee, and Philly Restart, along with their pastors/founder.

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