by Jeff Gore
We’re now well into the fifth year of the City of Orlando vs. Food not Bombs saga, and it isn’t getting any less interesting.
The Weekly learned yesterday that Food not Bombs – an activist group with a not-so-subtle political message which feeds the homeless twice a week at Lake Eola – will be granted a re-hearing of their lawsuit against the city in federal appeals court in Atlanta, scheduled for the week of February 14th.
In the summer of 2006, the Orlando city council passed an ordinance that banned groups from giving food to 25 or more people in a public space within a two mile radius of City Hall. Members of Food not Bombs, believing they were targeted by the ordinance, appealed the decision to a federal court. Two years later, federal judge Gregory Presnell overturned the ordinance, ruling that sharing food can be considered expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. In December of last year, the Atlanta federal appeals court came to the opposite conclusion as Presnell, ruling in favor of the city.
Food not Bombs’ lawyer, Jacqueline Dowd, quickly filed for a re-hearing, and was notified a couple weeks ago that it would be granted. According to Dowd, a federal appeals court gets around 27,000 requests for re-hearings annually; only 75 are granted. She added that was lucky to have learned of the odds after filing for the rehearing: “If I had known what a long shot it was, I probably wouldn’t have tried it!”
Because the appeals court is essentially starting over with the case, Presnell’s ruling is currently the supreme judgment – so feedings are happening routinely at Lake Eola, as they have since 2005.
Dowd says that she’s “feeling pretty good” about their prospects for a victory in February, but if they lose, they could throw a Hail Mary and appeal to “The Supreme.” Court, that is. “There are other cities all across the country waiting to see what happens,” Dowd says. “It could possibly set some precedents.”
To Dowd, it’s a no-brainer that sharing food is a form of expression: “It’s the day before Thanksgiving – try and tell me that food doesn’t have symbolism.”