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HEARTS of the CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

February 05, 1997

Today's Question: Los Angeles city officials want to ban aggressive panhandling. Solicitations would be forbidden at freeway ramps and bank ATMs. In some cases, sitting or leaning on public property or being too close to private property would be outlawed. Repeat offenders could be sent to jail and fined $500. Some say a panhandling law would improve the "quality of life" in the city. Others worry about limiting begging when government is cutting social services. Is there a moral principle at stake?

Father Thomas P. Rausch

Chairman, department of theological studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

"In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says that we will be judged on the basis of how we respond to the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, or imprisoned. According to Catholic social teaching, we have a responsibility both as individuals and as a civic community to care for the poor. Aggressive panhandling can become a public nuisance and may need to be regulated. But before our elected representatives do so, we must ask what social networks we are providing for the disadvantaged. Do we provide shelters, low-cost housing, soup kitchens, psychological care, rehabilitation programs and other forms of assistance? If not, we can hardly in good conscience complain or outlaw public begging."

Maher Hathout

Spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles

"We have enough laws on the books. To target the poor is a misguided effort to make the city look good, not to be good. These are poor people trying to make ends meet in hard times. When social programs are cut and the poor lack needed job skills, it is morally reprehensible to make their lives more difficult, even if some of them misbehave. Muslims are reminded of the Koran's admonition: 'Hast thou ever considered [the kind of man] who gives the lie to all moral law? Behold, it is this [kind of man] that thrusts the orphan away and does not urge others to feed the needy. Woe, then, unto those praying ones whose hearts from their prayer are remote--those who want only to be seen and praised, and . . . deny all assistance [to their fellow men]!' "

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rector and professor of philosophy, University of Judaism, Los Angeles

"Begging is a social disgrace, incompatible with the dignity of the image of God embedded in each of us. Jewish law therefore requires the community to provide food, clothing, and housing for the poor. Each individual is required to contribute to this communal function. Moreover, the highest form of charity is to help the poor become self-sufficient so that they no longer need a dole. Thus Maimonides interprets Leviticus 25:35, 'You shall strengthen him,' as meaning that you shall assist people so that they do not fall into poverty in the first place. (Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 10:7). Only if the community fulfilled these responsibilities could it in good conscience pass a law restricting panhandling."

Compiled by Larry B. Stammer, Times religion writer

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