A San Antonio woman can’t stop feeding the homeless. Joan Cheever was ticketed last week, the first time she’s been stopped since she began feeding the needy in 2005.
Cheever, a chef who owns a food truck called Chow Train, is fighting the citation, which could be as high as $2000, for handing out food at a local park. She plans to use the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in her defense.
‘This is how I pray,” Cheever told police. “When I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate.”
The police told her to pray in church instead, but Cheever plans to continue feeding the homeless in the weeks leading up to her court appearance.
“The citation was issued for failing to adhere to long-standing regulations that are in place to ensure public health and safety,” city spokeswoman Thea Setterbo said in an email to The Huffington Post.
The city of San Antonio says the problem is that Cheever didn’t have the right permits for a mobile food vendor. She says she wasn’t feeding them out of her food truck.
Cheever’s fine seems to be the latest in a series of high-profile efforts by local governments to discourage people from publicly feeding the homeless. Currently, it’s illegal to feed the homeless in 33 states. Local lawmakers often pass ordinances against giving out food in the name of public safety. Street feeders and their legal advocates view the laws as an effort to keep the local homeless population out of sight.
According to David Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and an expert on religious freedom laws, Cheever has a chance of winning in court.
“If she really doesn’t qualify for a permit, because of some reason related to the safety of the food, the court may be more deferential and less protective,” David Laycock said. “But it sounds like that is not the most likely possibility.”
Laycock also cited a federal court ruling (again in Texas, 2013) against a Dallas ordinance limiting where charities could feed the homeless.
“The homeless feeders are religiously motivated institutions that are afforded statutory protection to practice their religions without being substantially burdened by government regulation,” Judge Jorge Solis said then. Let’s see what they say now.