Anti-hunger and anti-war activists in Florida have reportedly won their protracted legal fight against the city government of Fort Lauderdale, which agreed to compensate the local chapter of Food Not Bombs after spending years trying to prevent the group from sharing free food with people in need at a downtown park.
“It took seven years, but Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs’ federal civil liberties lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale for banning food sharings is finally concluding,” the group said Monday in a statement. “After we won our second appeal in August 2021, the city has accepted a settlement that admits they were wrong to enforce the park rule against us and will pay us a small amount of damages. They will also have to pay our lawyers a great deal more!”
Last August, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District ruled unanimously that “a rule limiting food-sharing inside Fort Lauderdale parks is unconstitutional as applied to Food Not Bombs’ hosting of free vegan meals for the homeless,” the Courthouse News Service reported at the time.
According to the outlet:
A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court overturned a Florida federal court’s summary judgment in favor of the city, finding that a rule which banned the sharing of food as a social service in city parks without written permission violated Food Not Bombs’ First Amendment rights.
Fort Lauderdale Park Rule 2.2 requires city permission for social service food-sharing events in all Fort Lauderdale parks and allows officials to charge as much as $6,000 for the permitting process.
In a 64-page ruling issued Tuesday, the panel determined the rule cannot lawfully qualify as a “valid regulation” of Food Not Bombs’ expressive conduct due to its “utterly standardless permission requirement.”
In its statement, Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs said that the favorable settlement is “on top of the victories this lawsuit already accomplished in years’ prior, including the 2018 appeals ruling that ruled that the original sharing ban law was unconstitutional—[…] creating a strongly worded precedent about sharing food as protected free speech.”
“We had to bite our tongues a lot over the years to see how this would play out, but no more,” the group continued. “We outlived and outmaneuvered the old mayor, city manager, and city attorney, who were all intent on policing us and the homeless out of existence.”
“Let’s not forget multiple FLPD chiefs and captains who sent their goons to stalk and arrest us, all gone now!” the group added. “Nuts to all the narrow-minded fools who wanted to be rid of us.”
Decrying government efforts to crack down on those who feed the poor, Keith McHenry—co-founder of Food Not Bombs, which uses surplus ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away to provide vegetarian meals to people in more than 1,000 cities in 65 countries across the world—told the Institute for Public Accuracy on Wednesday that “sharing free food with the hungry is an unregulated gift of love.”
McHenry—currently in Houston, where another local chapter is risking arrest by refusing to comply with a city ordinance that seeks to move meal distribution from outside the downtown library to a parking lot near the courthouse—noted that in addition to worsening poverty, the coronavirus crisis has made obtaining assistance more difficult, underscoring the importance of Food Not Bombs.
“While most indoor soup kitchens shut down during the pandemic,” he said, “Food Not Bombs continued to share with the unhoused.”