Michigan Town that Banned Charity Collection Bins Loses in Federal Court

Saturday, April 11, 2015
(photo: Wikipedia)

A federal court has struck down a Michigan town’s ban on charity collection bins.


St. Johns’ City Council adopted an ordinance last year targeting outdoor, unattended charity bins, claiming they were blight on the city. The ban primarily affected those belonging to the nonprofit Planet Aid, which had only two bins, one outside a grocery store and another outside a gas station. The council grandfathered in the recycling center belonging to the Lions Club, exempting it from the regulation.


Planet Aid sued the city under the First Amendment in federal court, and won both a restraining order and injunction to halt the ordinance.


The case then moved to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed (pdf) the ruling and said “the ordinance is a content-based regulation of protected speech, and that Planet Aid has demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits of its constitutional claim.”


Judge Richard Griffin wrote for the circuit’s three-judge panel that St. Johns’ ban “implies, without any evidence, that charities would be negligent in failing to conduct timely pickups of donated goods, in maintaining the appearance of the bins, etc.”


Charity bins are a form of communication, according to the court. “A passer-by who sees a donation bin may be motivated by it to research the charity to decide if he wants to donate—in so doing, the passer-by will gain new information about the social problem the charity seeks to remedy,” Griffin wrote.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Michigan City Fails to Nix Yellow Donation Bins (by Robert Kennedy, Courthouse News Service)

Victory at the Sixth Circuit (by Lawrence Opalewski, Dalton & Tomich)

Planet Aid v. City of St. Johns (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals) 


Josh 9 years ago
This makes me feel out of touch with my fellow citizens. Who would want to ban something that helps people? Can someone walk me through the thought process of these people?

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