More than a decade ago the city tried to ban Abbott from holding picnics for the homeless at the beach, offering him an alternative site miles away from downtown. But Abbott prevailed when a judge ruled in 2000 that the city had violated his religious rights and that the city’s new location was too remote. Abbott resumed his feedings, and in October and November was arrested three times for feeding the homeless outdoors in violation of city ordinances that set certain rules for such feedings.
On Wednesday, Abbott’s lawyer who handled that previous case, John David, filed a motion in Broward Circuit Court asking a judge to enforce the injunction or show cause for why the city should not be held in contempt of court for violating the injunction.
David wrote that city officials have “once again substantially burden[ed], harassed, threatened and prevented plaintiffs from continuing their religiously motivated feedings by preventing them from feeding the homeless in the South Beach picnic area of Fort Lauderdale beach.”
Seiler has defended the city’s record on serving the homeless.
“Contrary to reports, the City of Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless,” Seiler wrote.
Seiler said that the city had established an outdoor food distribution ordinance that “regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner.”
But in reality the rules -- such as getting consent of the property owner, and having bathrooms and handwashing stations -- make it extremely difficult for a group to hold outdoor feedings. Abbott’s feedings take place at visible spots along the beach and in downtown close to the county’s main library and businesses. The city’s ordinance allows indoor feedings at houses of worship.
The city has offered Abbott two alternative sites: one at at the city’s aquatic complex and the other at Church by the Sea. Abbott rejected both sites today, according to the city.
Abbott was not taken into custody but was given notices to appear in court. He faces fines plus 60 days in jail if convicted of the violations. No court dates have been set.
Seiler, a lawyer, faces re-election in March and no opponents have filed so far. He has been mentioned as a potential future statewide candidate for the Democrats.
This blog was updated to include more information about the city offering alternative sites.
Link to original article from the Miami Herald