Do We Have a Right to Feed the Homeless? A Fined Food Truck Operator Thinks So
The owner of a San Antonio food truck has been slapped with a $2,000 fine for feeding some of her city’s homeless, and she is not going to pay it without a fight.
Joan Cheever has been running a nonprofit food truck since 2005. During that same span, on Tuesdays, she’s also dedicated herself to serving free meals to the area homeless, typically without incident. But earlier this month, local police cited Cheever for her activities, despite the fact that her food truck is fully licensed. According to Cheever, police said her food truck permit didn’t allow her to serve food from outside of her truck. The citation carries a fine up to $2,000. (A Texas Public Radio report says that Cheever had the proper permits at one time, but they were expired at the time of the incident.)
Far from backing down, Cheever, who is also a lawyer, has vowed to fight the citation and is even considering suing the city of San Antonio for violating her religious freedom. “I shouldn’t be the one on the hot seat here,” she told the Washington Post. “This is about every church group or individual who wants to serve a meal. It’s terrible to criminalize the poor, but it’s just as bad to say to the good Samaritans that you’re a criminal too. The Bible says, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me,’ and I take that seriously.”
Similar laws in other areas aren’t uncommon. The National Coalition for the Homeless says that 71 cities have either passed or looked to pass similar ordinances against feeding the homeless.
What could make Cheever’s fight unique, however, is her willingness to invoke religious freedom rights—especially in a state like Texas, where such laws tend to be taken pretty seriously. We recently saw the controversy in Indiana when business owners claimed their religion would prevent them from serving food. But what if your religion compels you to feed someone?
In the meantime, though, Cheever is due in court on June 23, and she’s said she won’t be stopping her Tuesday feedings during the interim.