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Subway Begging Not Free Speech, U.S. Court Rules

May 11, 1990|From United Press International

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that begging on the subways is not a constitutionally protected form of free speech and is "nothing less than assault" on citizens by panhandlers.

The decision by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Jan. 26 ruling by U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand that poor people had a First Amendment right to beg.

Sand's ruling had fueled a heated debate on panhandling and heightened frustration of commuters complaining about increasingly aggressive homeless people asking for money.

"It seems fair to say that most individuals who beg are not doing so to convey any social or political message," said Judge Frank Altimeri, who wrote the 50-page, 3-1 decision. "Rather, they beg to collect money.

"Begging is inherently aggressive to the captive passengers in the close confines of the subway atmosphere. Begging in the subway often amounts to nothing less than assault, creating in the passengers the apprehension of imminent danger."

Sand had directed that begging and panhandling be permitted on subway platforms and mezzanines but temporarily prohibited such behavior on subway trains and other areas.

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