The New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of Manchester’s panhandling ordinance in federal court.
The organization claims the ordinance violates panhandlers’ rights to free speech and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Legal Director Gilles Bissonette says the ordinance is “particularly problematic,” because it targets the individual standing peacefully in a public space, “not a motorist that is potentially causing an obstruction.” He adds that restrictions on speech in public places deserve heightened scrutiny.
The ACLU is wrapping the challenge to Manchester’s ordinance into an ongoing lawsuit against the city and police officer Ryan Brandreth. That case was filed after Brandreth charged 54 year old Navy and Army veteran Theresa Petrello with disorderly conduct. According to the complaint, “Defendant Officer Brandreth never alleged that Ms. Petrello stepped in a roadway. Notwithstanding this fact, Defendant Officer Brandreth claimed that Ms. Petrello was obstructing traffic because she was causing vehicles to stop.”
The case could have implications for Concord, Somersworth and Rochester, which have similar panhandling ordinances.