Free food given away in driveways is no laughing matter in Arizona, where it until this month was also illegal to give bottled water to people at a public religious festival. It took the threat of legal action, coupled with a public relations campaign by the Rutherford Institute, to persuade the Phoenix city council to repeal the law.
Now the Rutherford Institute has another city ordinance in its cross-hairs. Rutherford is a legal defense organization. It is coming to the rescue of a woman who is giving away food in her driveway. The city of Glendale sent a policeman to warn Millie Ramirez that she was violating the law by giving away free food in her driveway.
This woman, the city says, is a menace to society. I am sure you can understand the city’s position.
For seven years, Ramirez has collected donations from area grocers and made them available to needy families by setting up a temporary food bank in her driveway, which she puts up and takes down each day. In taking issue with the makeshift “food bank,” Glendale officials insist that Ramirez is violating the Glendale City Code by storing materials outside her home, citing her charitable activities as being an “illegal home occupation,” an “illegal land use,” and as unlawfully lacking a “business license.”
Can you imagine this? Using a driveway for seven years without getting a business license.
What about her first amendment rights of the free exercise of religion? Irrelevant, the city says. What about due process under the 14th amendment? The city says she got due process. She was warned by a cop to stop it. That’s enough due process for anyone.
John Whitehead, the head of the Rutherford Institute, has issued a press release.
“Once again, we find ourselves in the inexplicable position of actually having to protect Americans from a governmental bureaucracy intent on asserting its authority, even to the detriment of such fundamental First Amendment rights as free speech, free exercise of religion and assembly. Unfortunately, this is all part of the ongoing breakdown in representative government that has landed us with a mess of vague laws criminalizing the most innocuous activities, such as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing food with the needy.”
I have known Whitehead for 30 years. He is a troublemaker. He takes these hard-line positions all the time. City councils resent him and his organization.
Here are the facts.
Ramirez lays out the food on temporary shelves placed on her driveway, which she puts up and takes down each day. Recently, however, Ramirez has been subjected to repeated harassment by Glendale city officials, who have issued “compliance notices” stating that she is in violation of Glendale’s storage ordinances and cited her for violating City Code § 25-21 (f), which states that “no person shall place and/or store furniture … in a location that is visible to a person standing upon any public street or sidewalk.”
The Glendale city council understands that such unauthorized activities like these threaten the very fabric of society.
Whitehead continued. The law “could also be used to outlaw tables used for occasional lemonade stands and yard sales, as well as items regularly used outdoors in residential neighborhoods—garden hoses, lawn tools, watering cans, signage, picnic blankets and baskets, children’s toys, bicycles, etc.”
That is the logic of the city’s position. Who knows? If the Rutherford Institute loses in court, the city council may begin to prosecute these other infractions. It all depends on public relations. Constitutional liberties will play no part in the city council’s decision. PR is what matters.