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Opening Arguments

Begging for a court fight

Can a panhandler's ability to ask for money be restricted, but a firefighter's right to stand by the road and raise money for charity be upheld, without somebody's rights being violated? Such questions are important to ask, but every time the issue is brought up, advocates always find a new right nobody ever thought of before. A proposed ban on begging in Atlanta has some claiming it is a civil rights issue, since many of those begging are black. And because a similar proposal in Pittsburgh would have an exception for street performers, you just know somebody had to think of it as "discrimination against the talentless." And when Indianapolis tried to put some restrictions on begging a few years ago, it became a First Amendment issue.

This is just one area in which people are trying to make tradeoffs that balance individual rights with quality-of-life expectations in an urban environment. Courts have apparently been OK with very specific bans, such as those prohibiting carefully defined "aggressive" panhandling, but more negative toward very broad bans. If the comeback of downtown Fort Wayne is ever successful, we'll probably have to deal with some of these problems. It's instructive that we don't have to right now.