A federal appeals court has ruled that New York City can oust panhandlers from the subways because asking for money is not a protected form of speech.
"The only message that we are able to espy as common to all acts of begging is that beggars want to exact money from those whom they accost," the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 opinion.The decision reversed a lower court ruling that said the Metropolitan Transit Authority's begging prohibition was unconstitutional because begging is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
The earlier ruling had overturned a city program, begun in October, to crack down on vagrancy in the subway. Many of the city's estimated 80,000 homeless people congregate underground to stay warm, sleep and ask for spare change.
The appeals court ruling means the Transit Authority can ban begging on trains, near subway stairways, escalators and elevators and within 25 feet of token booths.
The court said U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand, who made the earlier ruling, showed "an exacerbated deference to the alleged individual rights of beggars and panhandlers to the great detriment of the common good."
The Transit Authority, which operates the subway system, has an obligation to provide a safe environment for its ridership, the appeals court said.