Monday, July 13, 2009

Letter to the Editor

As appeared in our local paper, The Springfield News-Sun, and on their web page here.

Anti-begging law should be repealed

Section 509.08 of the Springfield City Ordinance prohibits begging in the city. No person may, directly or indirectly, ask for alms or subsistence by charity in the streets or public places of the city.

Court records indicate recent arrests for begging. This ordinance raises two questions:

First, what does it mean to indirectly beg? I remember the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. If a traveler is attacked by robbers in Springfield, could his helplessness be construed as indirect begging? Could a Good Samaritan’s compassion be construed as complicity in the crime of begging? (Section 501.10, City Ordinance)

Second, does Springfield want to be known as a city that turns a blind eye to the poor and needy? The ordinance specifically forbids asking for subsistence, or the minimum necessary to support life, such as food and water.

Annoying panhandling aside, this provision refers to desperate need. If a neighbor were dying of hunger or thirst, would the city seek to silence him? This law impacts my homeless friends in particular.

Charity and almsgiving are basic components of many faiths, including my own. As a follower of Jesus, I must ask our mayor and city commission to re-evaluate this ordinance.

In the Bible, we read that Sodom was destroyed not only for her immorality and idolatry, but because of her callous disregard for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49). My city is no Sodom, and her laws should reflect the compassion and generosity of her people.

Jack Legg