ACLU calls El Cajon's 'food sharing' ban 'cruel,' possibly 'unconstitutional'

Posted at 2:18 PM, Dec 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-12 17:24:30-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - El Cajon's ban on sharing food with the city's homeless may violate the First Amendment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of San Diego.

Last week, the ACLU sent a letter to the City of El Cajon, urging officials to reconsider their ordinance prohibiting people and organizations from sharing food with homeless individuals on public property.

The group called out the law, passed by the city in October in response to the county's Hepatitis A outbreak, as a "needlessly cruel" law and one that "dampens the spirit of giving this holiday season."

RELATED: El Cajon campaign aims to cut down on panhandling

"By prohibiting food sharing only when done for 'charitable purposes,' El Cajon is regulating food sharing because of its expressive content, punishing only those who share food to express their religious or political beliefs in ministry or charity but not those who share food for other purposes," David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego, said in a Dec. 6 release. "If charitable appeals for funds are within the protection of the First Amendment, the same is true for charitable giving, whether of money or food.

"In keeping with the spirit of the season and the principles of the U.S. Constitution, we urge El Cajon to quickly reconsider this ordinance."

The ACLU said they don't believe the ban will control the county's public health emergency and will only deny food to those in need.

The full letter can be read here.

RELATED: Holiday hunger hits hard in San Diego

El Cajon experienced a 48 percent increase of unsheltered homeless individuals between 2016 and 2017, according to the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness. Of that 48 percent, 34 percent were considered chronically homeless.

On Oct. 24, the city passed the controversial measure "out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of its residents," according to a release.

"With the help of service organizations, the City is exploring a long-term solution to protect citizens in public places," a city release read.

RELATED: San Diego City Council approves funding plan for temporary homeless tents

El Cajon has also installed signage discouraging residents to give to panhandlers. Instead, the city encourages people to donate to the East County Homeless Task Force.