Groups that serve food to the homeless and hungry in Philadelphia celebrated a victory Thursday after a federal judge issued a temporary injunction to suspend the new ban on handing out meals in city parks.
U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn cautioned his opinion might change as he reviews case law to write his final opinion.
But the plaintiffs, including Chosen 300 leader Brian Jenkins, are counting this as a victory.
“Yes, we have more steps to take,” Jenkins said. “But we thank God for this first step.”
The judge called many of the city’s main arguments invalid, including the idea that eating indoors is inherently more dignified than eating outdoors.
And Yohn questioned the purpose of the temporary area set up outside City Hall where groups can serve meals. He argued that location was no more sanitary or conducive to social service outreach efforts than the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Mayor Michael Nutter said he is disappointed at what he called a “preliminary of a preliminary” statement. The mayor maintains that the trash, food, and sometimes human waste left over after serving on the Parkway make it impossible for others to enjoy the space.
“For those reasons, we do not think the activity is appropriate at that location and does in fact conflict with the overall enjoyment and use by so many, many others who wish to be in that same space at the same time,” Nutter said.
The judge indicated he would likely grant a one-year injunction, on the grounds that the ban restricts religious expression. He suggested that would give the city and volunteer groups more time to encourage the homeless and hungry who are hesitant to eat indoors to make the move.
Violet Little, pastor of the Welcome Church and another plaintiff challenging the policy, argued that might not be a good idea.
“I don’t think that we can state as a goal to bring people indoors until we’ve had conversations with people,” she said. “To say, ‘What is it that you need, tell us what you need,’ rather than assume that everyone wants to go have a place to eat indoors.”
If the city and protesting groups do not come to a compromise, the case will head back to court next year for a full trial.