By Bob Unruh
From World Net Daily
A second letter has been dispatched to the city of Glendale, Ariz., over the “compliance notices” its inspectors keep issuing to a woman who collects leftover food supplies, then gives it away to the community’s needy.
The issue is that the city is insisting that the giveaway violates its rules because the woman sets up shelves in her driveway every day for people to get the food, then takes them down each night. That, the city says, violates its code against storing indoor furniture and other objects outside.
But the letter from John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute essentially says that’s nonsense, as the shelves used daily by Millie Ramirez are not stored outside, only used during the food giveaway hours.
“If you are indeed desirous of respecting Ms. Ramirez’ First Amendment rights, and if your sole interest is in enforcing the city code, then you should ensure that city officials and agents adopt a necessary limiting construction to Code 25-21(f), applying it only to the inappropriate storage of indoor furniture and the like outdoors. This provision was surely not intended to preclude homeowners from actually using materials and equipment outdoors for specific purposes, as indicated by the explicit exception for outdoor furniture that is intended for outdoor use,” Whitehead told chief deputy City Attorney Nicholas DiPiazza.
“If, on the other hand, you insist upon interpreting this provision to mean that homeowners cannot use shelves and coolers in their driveways for specific purposes during the day where these materials are properly tended, maintained and stored indoors each night, then the provision suffers from unconstitutional vagueness and overbreadth and invites discriminatory enforcement.”
He continued by explaining Ramirez is not “storing” indoor materials outside, but is using the shelves temporarily to distribute food “to accomplish her religious exercise.”
“If your position is that her activities violate the city code because she is ‘placing’ these materials outdoors for limited periods of time, then I submit that you must also interpret the ordinance to preclude the temporary placement of boxes outside on a resident’s moving day, any number of ‘indoor’ household items that are used outdoors during barbecues or yard parties and shelves and tables used for yard sales…”
He wrote that the city’s application in the Ramirez case “presents a denial of her equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment as well as an unlawful intrusion upon her property rights and a violation of her rights to free religious exercise under the First Amendment…”
But the real focus of the issue is her food giveaways, he wrote. The city had suggested that Ramirez donate her food to other, existing, food distribution centers in the city on not give it away directly.
But Whitehead said government has “no right to interfere with private religious beliefs by determining what forms of religious exercise might manifest the adherent’s beliefs or fulfill her duties…”
“At this time, on behalf of Ms. Ramirez, we repeat our previous demand that you remedy this situation immediately and provide Ms. Ramirez written assurance that she will be free from further harassment by city officials.”
He also wrote that if it’s the “shelves” to which the city objects, his client might be willing to consider alternative display methods.
“She is far less concerned with using any particular means of displaying the food items than with securing her right to simply offer the food itself to those in need,” he wrote.
It was last month when she got her notification from the city. She has for seven years collected donations from area grocers. She makes the food available to needy families by setting up temporary shelves in her driveway.
“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,” Whitehead said.
“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.”
The conflict erupted with the city warned Ramirez “that she would be considered a criminal if she continued to use the driveway of her private residence to distribute free food to area families.”
WND reported just a few weeks earlier the public backlash that erupted when an inspector in nearby Phoenix banned a Christian from giving away bottles of water on a hot day to passersby at a “First Friday” festival. The outcry prompted city officials to drop the restriction.
Dana Crow-Smith, a Christian who explained she was following the biblical instruction of Matthew 10:42 to do small acts of kindness, chose to hand out bottles of cold water to passersby during a city festival when the temperatures reached 112 degrees.
But she was ordered to stop by a city inspector, who said she was required to obtain a vendor’s permit. But the institute pointed out that not only did the action violate Crow-Smith’s statutory and First Amendment rights as well as Fourteenth Amendment rights, but vending in the city is defined as “peddling, vending, selling, displaying, or offering for sale” items.
She was giving away the water, the institute noted.
City officials initially said she needed a vendor’s permit, but later backed off.