A Christian group was handing out free bottles of water at a festival. She was approached by a local bureaucrat with some agency called the Neighborhood Protection. The Neighborhood Protection Inspector informed her that she was breaking the law. She did not have a vendor’s permit.
She contacted the Rutherford Institute, a Christian legal advocacy organization.
Rutherford Institute attorneys have deemed the City’s actions to be problematic on numerous fronts, pointing out that not only is the ban on passing out free water completely unjustified under the City Code, but it also constitutes a violation of Crow-Smith’s First Amendment right to freely exercise her religion, her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.
The head of the organization, John W. Whitehead, zeroed in on the implications of this.
“It is a sad day when local government officials prohibit Americans from such charitable acts as giving water to the thirsty in their city. Sadly, this is the reality that more and more Americans are grappling with in the face of a government bureaucracy consumed with churning out laws, statutes, codes and regulations that reinforce its powers and value systems and those of the police state and its corporate allies.
Here are the details.
Dana Crow-Smith, a Christian, was assembled with other Christians at a Phoenix “First Friday” festival in July to publicly express her Christian faith and engage willing passersby in conversations about their religious beliefs. Having read a Bible passage referencing the importance of small acts of kindness such as offering water to the thirsty (Matthew 10:42), Crow-Smith was further moved to offer cold bottles of water to people at the Festival who were braving the desert’s scorching 112-degree heat. However, during the festival, Crow-Smith was approached by a Neighborhood Preservation Inspector who informed the group that they were violating the Phoenix City Code by giving away water without a vendor’s permit. Although Crow-Smith protested that a vendor’s permit should not be required of citizens who merely sought to offer water as a free gift, the inspector insisted that the City Code prohibits “sidewalk vending” without a license agreement. “Sidewalk vending” is defined in the Code as “peddling, vending, selling, displaying, or offering for sale any item of tangible personal property or other thing of value upon a sidewalk of the City of Phoenix.”
The Rutherford Institute has made a formal request.
In challenging the City’s assertions, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute point out that as these provisions are expressly limited to the sale of goods, they clearly do not apply to Crow-Smith’s act of charitably giving away water. Institute attorneys are demanding that City officials issue a formal, written apology to Crow-Smith, assure her in writing that no City officials will interfere in the future with her distribution of water, and require that all law enforcement officials in the City undergo training on proper enforcement of the City’s Code, including training to ensure that officials will pay proper regard to citizens’ exercise of First Amendment rights.
So far, the city has remained mute. It has until August 17 to respond. If it continues to stonewall, the Rutherford Institute will being legal action against the city.
Why should Phoenix, or any city, require a license for vendors to sell goods? But many of them do. We need a license to do any form of commerce.