Raleigh Police Stop Local Humanists From Distributing Food to Homeless

For years now, several groups around Raleigh, North Carolina have been giving food and clothing to the homeless in Moore Square. The media has been lumping them all together as “church groups” but one of them is a Humanist service group called Human Beans Together, who have been distributing goods there since January of 2012.

A food distribution (via Human Beans Together Facebook page)

A few weeks ago, the Raleigh Police Department told them they couldn’t hand out food in public space, so they all moved to the nearby Salvation Army’s parking lot… until the city took that space over, too.

This past weekend, all that goodwill came to a sudden halt when the police shut them down:

“An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested,” the Rev. Hugh Hollowell wrote on the [Love Wins Ministries'] website. “We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.”

The Raleigh police were there to enforce a city ordinance that bans the distribution of food in any of the city’s parks

The ordinance in question is one that is so poorly worded that it could theoretically be construed as a ban on picnics in city parks:

Distribution of food prohibited

No individuals or group shall serve or distribute meals or food of any kind in or on any City park or greenway unless such distribution is pursuant to a permit issued by the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Director.

It’s not a horrible ordinance — you could argue it helps maintain safety and protects the city against any liability issues. I still don’t get why the police decided to enforce this law now after years of allowing the generosity to thrive… It’s also important to note that a similar prohibition was found unconstitutional in Orlando, Florida in 2008.

But okay, how about a permit then?

Here’s Hollowell:

each permit to use the park costs $800. Yes, eight hundred dollars. That would cost us $1,600 every weekend, and the officer we spoke to said the City likely wouldn’t approve it anyway.

Raleigh’s Law and Public Safety Committee met earlier today to discuss the food distribution to the homeless at its regular meeting.

Hopefully this can come to a quick resolution so that the Christian and atheist groups can continue doing the good work they do.

(Thanks to Carmen for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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