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Date: 1993

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art

Artist: People who panhandle

Confronting Bodies: New York City

Dates of Action: 1993

Location: New York City

Description of Artwork: Begging and loitering in public places.

The Incident: Begging on the streets of New York City "implicates expressive conduct or communicative activity" protected by the First Amendment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled July 29, 1993. The court struck down a New York statute that criminalized loitering in a public place "for the purpose of begging."The city argued that begging has no expressive element, and that the city's interest in combating the intimidation, fraud, and urban decline in areas where panhandlers congregate outweighs their interest in conveying a message of indigence. It also said the loitering statute was a key tool in community policing.

Results of Incident: Although the Second Circuit upheld a ban on begging in the city's subway system in 1990, it distinguished that case as involving a "limited" forum that left open alternative channels of communication above ground. The loitering statute, by contrast, applied to city sidewalks, traditional public forums in which content-based exclusions of speech must be narrowly drawn to achieve a compelling state interest. Begging was decriminalized.

Source: Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association