By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Controversy continues over Philadelphia’s new ban on outdoor feedings of large groups on city parklands, including in Fairmount Park, Love Park, or along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Several religious groups filed a federal lawsuit today.
Philadelphia civil rights attorney Paul Messing (of Kairys Rudovsky Messing & Feinberg) represents the plaintiffs in the case, which includes the Rev. Brian Jenkins of Chosen 300 Ministries, who has been a staunch opponent of the ban.
According to the complaint, the religious groups want an injunction against the ban (see related story), arguing that the law violates their Constitutional rights.
“These individuals are religiously motivated,” says Messing. “Under the ‘free exercise’ clause of the First Amendment, and Pennsylvania law, the government can’t interfere with the free exercise of their religion. In addition, they are trying to send an important message to the public about the plight of those in need, and interfering with their ability to send that message interferes with the free speech provisions of the Constitution.”
Messing says the city’s decision to allow feedings along the apron of City Hall is no alternative, since the area is rife with construction and is unsafe.
“It’s not a very dignified place for a religious service or for people to eat a meal,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s noisy, it’s dirty, there’s traffic, there’s congestion. Many of the homeless won’t go anywhere near it.”
Mayor Michael Nutter has said the ban will protect the dignity of the homeless, cleanliness of the parks, and eliminate food health concerns.