The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP filed a federal lawsuit on June 5, 2012, against the city of Philadelphia and Mayor Michael Nutter on behalf of a group of churches and religious leaders who wish to continue their ministries of feeding the homeless in the city's public parks. The lawsuit was in response to new city regulations that would force these groups to end their practice of sharing food with those in need outdoors. The lawsuit alleges these changes were made not to protect the health of the homeless but instead to protect the city's image in a tourist area, and that the ban on feeding homeless people interferes with the plaintiffs’ religious activities.
The plaintiffs asked the court for an emergency injunction to stop the city from enforcing the ban on food sharing, and the court held a hearing on July 9 and 10, 2012. At the end of the hearing, the Honorable William Yohn agreed with plaintiffs that the ban on feeding violated their right to practice their religion, and on July 12, the court issued an order (followed by an opinion on August 9), forbidding the city from interfering with the plaintiffs’ food sharing.
The city filed an appeal from the judge’s order, but then withdrew the appeal and entered into a settlement agreement with plaintiffs. Under that agreement, the plaintiff continued to feed homeless people in the parks, while working with the city to address the needs of homeless people throughout Philadelphia. The court’s preliminary injunction remained in effect.
On July 5, 2016, the city finally abandoned its effort to regulate the sharing of food in parks. The city announced the formal withdrawal of the challenged regulation and the parties dismissed the lawsuit.