PHOENIX, AZ – A legal team from the Rutherford Institute has given Phoenix city officials until next Friday to apologize for actions taken against a local citizen whose only offense was to hand out free water. The threatened law suit is the result of a Ms. Crow-Smith being cited for giving away free water bottles at a city festival on a day when temperatures reached 112 degrees.
John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute said, “It is beyond comprehension that local government officials would interfere with citizens performing such a basic act of charity as giving water to the thirsty”.
The woman cited was approached by Dwayne Grierson, the “Neighborhood Preservation Inspector,” as she was handing out free water and told she was in violation of Phoenix City Code because she did not possess a vendor’s permit. The incident occurred during a recent downtown festival on a day when temperatures reached as high as 112 degrees. “It was really hot and, yeah, we wanted to show God’s love and a small act of kindness is a great way to do that without shoving it down someone’s throat,” said Crow-Smith to ABC 15 News in Phoenix.
Grierson told the good Samaritan that handing out free water is considered vending with a license. In essence, she was told citizens of Phoenix must obtain permission before showing acts of kindness. But Rutherford spokesmen said the Phoenix City Code has no such prohibition of individuals from handing out free water, or anything else. The Code only states that individuals cannot sell goods or services on public sidewalks and property without first obtaining a vending permit.
Rutherford President, John W. Whitehead, said in a letter to the city that its actions were not justified under Phoenix city code. “In fact, the Phoenix City Code prohibits only ‘vending’ on city sidewalks without a license. ‘Sidewalk vending’ is defined as ‘peddling, vending, selling, displaying, or offering for sale any item of tangible personal property or other thing of value upon a sidewalk of the city of Phoenix.’
The citation also “violated Ms. Crow-Smith’s statutory and First Amendment rights to freely exercise her religion and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights,” said Whitehead. “As these provisions are expressly limited to the sale of goods, they clearly do not apply to Ms. Crow-Smith’s act of giving away water. Thus, Inspector Grierson’s actions constitute a completely unjustified interference with an act of charity by a private citizen and a violation of Ms. Crow-Smith’s right to be free from interference with her fundamental liberty interests absent due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment.”