Phoenix city council members struck down an ordinance on Wednesday that prohibited people from handing out free drinking water in public. The issue arose in the wake of a religious freedom law group's defense of Dana Crow-Smith, a Phoenix resident who was told she could not hand out the bottles of cold water on a city sidewalk during a "First Friday" festival.
"Our whole idea is just to glorify God, and do it with an act of kindness because it's so hot," said Crow-Smith, according to The Arizona Republic. "I had no idea it would turn into such a big deal."
Lawyers for The Rutherford Institute, who represented Crow-Smith, said a Neighborhood Preservation Inspector with the City of Phoenix informed her that she was violating the Phoenix City Code by passing out free bottles of water without a vendor's permit during the event last July.
Rutherford Institute attorneys deemed the city's actions to be problematic on numerous fronts, pointing out that not only was the ban on passing out free water completely unjustified under the City Code, but it also constituted a violation of Crow-Smith's First Amendment right to freely exercise her religion, her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act.
Crow-Smith was not ticketed or arrested for the incident, but was warned that she needed a $350 mobile vendor permit.
After public backlash, the City Council voted unanimously to create an exception to the city's policy of requiring a mobile vendor permit for persons selling or handing out goods on public streets.
"This victory in Phoenix shows that one person can stand up and change government for the better," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "This is proof that the democratic process not only can work but is working, provided that Americans care enough to take a stand and make their discontent heard. The best way to ensure that your government officials hear you is by never giving up, never backing down, and never remaining silent. As Samuel Adams pointed out, 'It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people's minds.'"
In challenging the city's assertions, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute pointed out that these provisions are expressly limited to the sale of goods. They clearly do not apply to Crow-Smith's act of charitably giving away water, TRI lawyers said.
Initially, City Manager David Cavazos doubled down on the policy, claiming that prohibiting Crow-Smith from giving out water was an issue of "fairness" for other persons selling or giving out wares and goods at the First Friday festival. However, following public backlash, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked policy makers to review the ordinance.
At the City Council meeting on Wednesday council members apparently agreed that Phoenix officials went too far on the ordinance intended for good, according to the Republic.
"We live in a desert, and it's the right thing to do," said Councilman Bill Gates, in regards to striking down the ordinance. "Sometimes, things happen where we have unintended consequences, and I think this is a perfect example of it."