NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal judge says panhandling is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, and a New Orleans suburb's ordinance requiring a panhandling license "offends the United States Constitution."

The ACLU of Louisiana's executive director, Marjorie Esman, says District Judge Lance Africk's opinion affirms that the Constitution protects even unpopular speech. She says in a news release that Slidell "may not ban messages it doesn't like or punish people for asking for help."

The ACLU sued for three men, saying they all panhandled in Slidell, usually at high-traffic intersections.

The city had agreed not to enforce the ordinance while it was being challenged.

Africk ruled Monday without trial.

Lawrence Abbott, who represented Slidell, says he cannot comment because a status conference scheduled Monday means the case is still pending.