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Dorrie Toney, [email protected], (404) 302-0128

June 24, 2024

ATLANTA — The ACLU of Georgia and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University Law Center filed suit in federal court Friday on behalf of Barred Business Foundation and two individuals, John Cole Vodicka and Steve Williams. The lawsuit seeks to stop the severe restrictions on charitable bail activity contained in Georgia Senate Bill 63 (SB 63) from taking effect. Section 4 of SB 63, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2024, would criminalize the charitable bail work of Plaintiffs and others similarly situated. 

Barred Business is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that serves and supports justice-impacted individuals, including by facilitating campaigns to pay cash bail for people held in pretrial detention. Vodicka and Williams live in Athens and run a charitable bail fund in association with their church, freeing people detained in jail because of their poverty. Their charitable bail efforts are an expression of their religious faith, which they believe compels them to do this work.

The Plaintiffs have requested a temporary restraining order and expedited preliminary injunction against the provisions of the law that would, subject to criminal prosecution, prohibit them and others similarly situated from posting more than three charitable cash bonds per year, and would impose burdensome licensing requirements that are unnecessary and nonsensical for charitable funds. These restrictions violate multiple constitutional rights, including Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, association, and religion. The court’s swift action is needed; Plaintiffs and others will be forced to stop their work helping people languishing in jail solely on account of their poverty by July 1, or face criminal penalties. Plaintiffs have asked the Court to grant an immediate injunction to stop the law from taking effect. The Court has set a hearing for Friday, June 28, at 3:30 p.m.

“SB 63 is cruel and costly, forcing people to languish in jail because they can’t pay for their release, and prohibiting others from being able to help them become free. With this law, the State of Georgia makes it illegal for people to exercise their First Amendment rights to help those who are detained solely because they are poor,” said Cory Isaacson, legal director, ACLU of Georgia. “It is mean and it is unconstitutional, and our hope is that the courts will step in to stop the State from doing more harm.”

Joseph Mead, Special Litigation Counsel at ICAP said, "It is vital that governments respect the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs and others who express their views of justice and religious beliefs through acts of generosity towards their neighbors. Instead, Georgia has made Plaintiffs’ charitable work a crime." 

The ACLU of Georgia enhances and defends the civil liberties and rights of all Georgians through legal action, legislative and community advocacy, and civic education and engagement.

The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institute within Georgetown University Law Center that uses strategic legal advocacy to defend constitutional rights while working to restore confidence in the integrity of our governmental institutions.

The complaint and motion for temporary restraining order and expedited preliminary injunction are available here and here.