The attorney for Norma Thornton, a 78-year-old grandmother from Arizona who was arrested earlier this year for feeding the homeless in a public park, heaped praise on her “kindhearted” client and explained why she believes authorities violated her constitutional rights.
Diana Simpson, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a law firm working to defend Americans’ civil rights, said she initially couldn’t believe Thornton’s plight was real.
“It’s just it’s such a wild story. You think, at first, that like this can’t be real,” Simpson said. “It can’t be the case that a city is arresting someone for helping those in need, and then you find out that it is the case.”
The lawyer said she and her team reached out to Thornton after hearing about the shocking ordeal, did research to substantiate it, and then decided to represent her.
As Faithwire previously reported, Thornton spends most days personally cooking food for the poor and serving it to them.
She made headlines after she was arrested in March for giving food to the homeless at Bullhead City Community Park, a place she had been going to almost daily for four years. But a city ordinance now precludes her from serving food in the park to those in need.
Watch Simpson break down her client’s ordeal:
“There’s a permit requirement, and so, if you want to feed people with a charitable purpose on public land, you first have to get a permit,” Simpson said. “These permits are expensive. They’re only available for one person, one day a month, and they’re only available at one location, one day a month.”
Considering Thornton feeds the poor almost daily, this option — even if expenses weren’t an issue — wouldn’t have worked out. Plus, there are commercial kitchen requirements as well as a “whole host of other restrictions,” according to Simpson.
“In essence, it acts as a ban on people serving those in need in public spaces,” she said. “And that’s exactly how Norma has experienced this ordinance and how it’s been applied to her.”
Simpson said the city council looked to create the ordinance to “eliminate homeless people from public parks” to curb sleeping there, among other issues.
Thornton and the Institute for Justice are suing to restore Thornton’s ability to feed the homeless there.
“We want to get Norma back to where she was before all of this started,” Simpson said. “Serving folks in the park is really the best place that she’s found. It’s where people see her. It’s where people who need to be fed are able to come and sit together and enjoy each other’s company.”
She continued, “They can wash their hands. They can sit at a table and eat like humans instead of having to sit on the ground somewhere.”
Simpson said she hopes the case is resolved in a way that allows people to engage charitably in the community and partake in traditions that are “deeply rooted in American history and the American experience.”
The complaint, filed in October, alleges Thornton’s Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.
“The City’s ordinance violates Norma’s constitutional rights,” the text reads in part. “The prohibition violates her right to engage in charitable acts and to share food with the needy, which is protected by the Due Process and Privileges or Immunities clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
As for Thornton, the attorney described her as kindhearted and a shining example for others to follow.
A victim of poverty in her early years, Thornton knew what it was like to go without and has wanted to help others experiencing similar challenges.
“The world would be a much better place if there were more Norma Thorntons out there,” she said. “She is so kindhearted, and she does what she can with what she has to help others.”
In a previous interview with CBN’s Faithwire, Thornton, who has moved her ministry to a private alleyway unhampered by the city ordinance, said she has no plans to back down from her quest to get back into the local park.
“I will not [stop my ministry],” Norma Thornton told CBN’s Faithwire. “I don’t care what they say. They are wrong, and I’m right. One of the ways I know I’m right is: I’ve prayed about it.”
Thornton explained how her invocations to the Lord always lead other good Samaritans to deliver something she needs.
“Every time I’m in doubt, something happens … suddenly there’s a box of food or a bag of food or whatever it is I need,” she said. “Blankets showed up here at my doorstep just a few days ago. The temperature dropped quite a bit [and] many of the people were very cold.”
Thornton continued, “So, God … put it on somebody’s heart to put that food at my doorstep, or that the bedding, or the hygiene stuff.”