A First Amendment battle has erupted over an Army veteran's campaign to hold "God Bless the Homeless Vets" signs to raise awareness of homelessness among those who served in the nation's military.
And it likely will have to be resolved in court.
Actually more than one court, as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Express announced it has filed, already, two lawsuits on behalf of Jeff Gray, a U.S. Army veteran and retired truck driver.
It's because he "has been repeatedly stopped, detained, searched, and arrested by the police. His alleged crime? Holding signs — in front of city halls across the United States."
The cases, based on the First Amendment's right to speak outside government buildings, so far are against Alpharetta, Georgia, and two police officers, and against the police chief in Blackshear, Georgia, FIRE reported.
"I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights," Gray explained in the announcement made by FIRE. "My intention is to ensure that all Americans from the wealthiest millionaire to the poorest homeless person can exercise these rights without fear of consequence from our government."
The circumstances that triggered the cases include that he was arrested for "panhandling" while peacefully holding a sign, he was cited for "not getting a government permit to express his viewpoints," and more.
The FIRE report explained, "In January 2022, Gray stood on a public sidewalk outside of Alpharetta City Hall holding a sign reading 'God Bless the Homeless Vets' to raise awareness of the plight of homeless veterans and, with his own camera rolling, to see how the public and police react."
The result was "Alpharetta police told Gray he was engaging in illegal 'panhandling' and threatened arrest if he didn’t stop. Gray explained that he wasn’t asking others for money and that, regardless, asking others for money is speech protected by the First Amendment," the report said.
Further, police commandeered his video camera, demanded his identification and banned him from the area.
"If this is how Alpharetta police treat a guy with a camera, how do they act the rest of the time?" said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. "The First Amendment protects the right to hold up a sign — and it certainly protects the right to film police activity in a public space."
In Blackshear, the police chief ordered Gray to get a "permit" for a "parade, procession, or demonstration" in order to hold his message on a sign.
"Jeff Gray doesn’t need a government-issued permission slip to speak – the First Amendment is his permission slip," said FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal. "Speaking out in public areas is a core First Amendment right, whether government officials recognize it or not. If our cities won’t teach officers to do their job properly, FIRE will."
Author: Bob Unruh