Chef Ticketed For Feeding The Homeless

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 15, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a war against the hungry! Good Samaritans are being ticketed, fined, and jailed for opening up their hearts and feeding the homeless and hungry.

Joan Cheever, founder of the nonprofit mobile food truck Chow Train, has fed homeless people for the last 10 years. Last week, San Antonio police officers gave Cheever a ticket with a potential fine of $2,000 for transporting and serving food without a permit. Cheever does have a permit for her food truck. But, on the day of the ticket, Cheever was serving food out of another van which she did not have a food permit for.

Is this a legitimate regulation of food safety laws or a violation of Cheever's religious rights?

Restriction on Religion?

Cheever argues that the fine infringes on her right to free exercise of religion. I'm guessing she means feeding the poor is part of her religion.

Usually, a law that burdens the free practice of religion must pass strict scrutiny. Mainly, the law must further a compelling government interest and be narrowly tailored.

However, this standard may not even apply to Cheever's case. The police didn't prohibit her from feeding the homeless. They ticketed her for not having a food permit for her vehicle. If she had been serving the food out of her food truck, for which she does have a permit, she probably wouldn't have been ticketed.

Cheever plans to fight the ticket at an upcoming hearing.

Other Good Samaritans In Jail

Cheever is not alone in her fight against authority for the right to feed the homeless.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a 90-year-old man and two pastors were arrested for feeding the homeless. They were charged with violating a city ordinance that required food stations to be 500 feet away from residence, provide a portable bathroom, and have a permit from the city.

In Texas, a 76-year-old man spent nine days in jail for violating a law that prohibited the feeding of feral cats. The man had been feeding the cats for the last 10 years, and racked up several tickets with fines equaling $900. In protest of the law, he refused to pay the fines, opting to go to jail instead.

In Orlando, volunteers from Orlando's Food Not Bombs were arrested and banned from Lake Eola Park for a year for feeding 40 homeless people. The ordinance they violated only allows groups to feed more than 25 people in a park, within a 2-mile radius of City Hall, up to twice a year. The city claims the law is a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on park use. I say it's discrimination against the hungry!

While these heartless laws may seem unfair, courts have generally upheld ordinances that prohibit feeding the homeless and hungry kitties.

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