CONCORD, N.H. — The Town of Hudson’s officials and police officers are violating the free-speech rights of the poor and the homeless by harassing and arresting panhandlers who use signs to solicit handouts, the state Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday in a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed against the town in US court in Concord, seeks a court order that town officials stop interfering with the free-speech rights of panhandlers on public property.
A homeless man, Jeffery Pendleton, 24, is the lead plaintiff. Gilles Bissonnette, an attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said Wednesday that Pendleton, who has been arrested at least once, no longer panhandles in Hudson because he fears he will be arrested again.
‘‘The police made it clear if you engage in this form of speech you will be detained, cited, and maybe arrested,’’ Bissonnette said. ‘‘His First Amendment rights have been chilled.’’
Hudson’s lawyer, Jay Hodes, did not return a call.
The civil liberties lawyers maintain there is no state law or local ordinance in Hudson that prohibits panhandling, but police have issued warnings and citations to panhandlers for soliciting without permits.
‘‘Poor people have a right to be in a public space like anyone else to engage in peaceful, nonthreatening speech,’’ Bissonnette said.
He said police in Hudson, a town of 23,000 residents near Massachusetts, issued a citation to Pendleton in November for panhandling. In January, Pendleton agreed to stay out of trouble for six months in lieu of prosecution. Police also have told Pendleton that he is banned from the town’s median strips, his lawsuit says.
Pendleton still panhandles in Nashua, holding a sign that reads, ‘‘Homeless. Struggling. Anything Helps. God Bless.’’
Pendleton, a native of Arkansas, moved to New Hampshire with his wife in 2009. The lawsuit states that after they divorced in 2013 he has been living in a tent in an undisclosed location since then. His lawyers maintain he is not receiving government assistance.
The suit notes that Hudson officials allow firefighters to run a boot campaign to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and that no enforcement action has been taken against Market Basket supermarket chain protesters soliciting support along a main thoroughfare.