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‘Tis the Season of Not Giving
How Regulations Are Making Charity Illegal
Question: Which of the following actions are illegal?
- Donating bagels to homeless shelters in New York City;
- Holding raffles in South Carolina to raise money for charity;
- Providing free dental care to the poor in California;
- Distributing eyeglasses to tornado victims in Missouri; or
- Armed robbery.
Answer: All of the above.
Yes, it’s true. All of the above are illegal—and none of them hypothetical. So while it’s been said that you “can’t legislate morality,” it now seems that you can at least ban charity.
- New Yorker Glenn Richter has been delivering free bagels to homeless shelters for 20 years. But a new city edict now prevents him from giving away food because the authorities can’t monitor its salt, fat, and fiber content. The end result—less food (salt, fat, or fiber) for the needy.
- Because they are considered a form of lottery (and only the state has the right to operate a lottery), raffles have been declared illegal in South Carolina—even when used to raise money for charity. As a result, Lions Clubs across the state have lost more than 500,000 in fundraising dollars intended to provide hearing aids and eye surgery for elderly South Carolinians.
- A charity called the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps has been prevented from providing free dental care in California or from giving away free glasses in Missouri. Why? Because it isn’t a registered in-state medical provider. This meant that when a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, the group’s optometrists weren’t able to offer victims their professional help.
Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated incidents.
Take the case of feeding the homeless. Dozens of cities now have regulations preventing it. In Orlando, Florida, several people were arrested for feeding the homeless in a public park because they didn’t have the required permits. For the same reason, a Phoenix, Arizona, woman was ordered to stop handing out free bottles of cold water during 112-degree temperatures. Though city officials claim they are only trying to ensure that people go to shelters to get better care, critics suspect the regulations are really intended to improve the cities’ public images.
The last thing our government should be doing is standing between public-spirited Americans and those who need help. Yes, economic freedom makes us more prosperous. But by ensuring we can distribute our own resources as we see fit, it will allow us to be more charitable, too.