US Veteran Takes Cities to Court After They Arrested Him for a 'God Bless Homeless Vets' Sign
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Jeff Gray, U.S. Army veteran, trucker and creator of HonorYourOath Civil Rights Investigations on YouTube, has been detained, arrested, and harassed across multiple instances of exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.
As a self-proclaimed First Amendment auditor, Gray states that he, "goes out peacefully and politely exercises [his] civil rights [conducting] investigation(s) to see if local government and local police departments are going to respect civil rights." He documents both positive and negative interactions with law enforcement and public officials to share on his YouTube channel.
In an interview with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, also known as FIRE, Gray expressed "God put it on my heart to go out there and advocate for compassion for homeless veterans." He will often stop at various churches, city hall locations or on other areas of public property with a sign labeled "God Bless the Homeless Vets".
When Gray spoke with FIRE regarding his peaceful displays, he relayed, "I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights. 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."
FIRE, has filed two separate lawsuits against cities in Georgia, seeking to defend Gray's right to free speech under the United States Constitution.
In the case of Gray v. City of Alpharetta, Gray was detained, berated, and prevented from recording these interactions with police after he stood on the sidewalk in front of Alpharetta City Hall with a cardboard sign reading "God Bless the Homeless Vets" and saying the same aloud to passersby.
Police said Gray was "panhandling" and banned him from "continuing to engage in expressive activity." Gray contends he was not attempting to gain monetary or material compensation from his time at City Hall, but rather was attempting a public display of peaceful expression.
In Blackshear, Georgia, Gray was issued a criminal citation for his peaceful public display, due to the violation of Blackshear ordinance by "holding a "parade, procession, or demonstration" without the Blackshear City Council’s permission." In their defense of Gray, attorneys for FIRE expressed, "the First Amendment is Gray’s permission slip."
LAWSUIT: An Army veteran was arrested while holding a ‘God Bless the Homeless Vets’ sign outside a city hall.— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) February 1, 2023
Yesterday, FIRE sued to defend his First Amendment rights and the rights of all.
Full video: https://t.co/7ERSP8k07y pic.twitter.com/ndh7GhZSwB
In addition to suing the Blackshear police chief, FIRE sent a letter to the Blackshear mayor, "explaining that the lawsuit is intended to bring an end to the city’s permission-to-speak ordinance — and put other cities on notice that they can’t leave unconstitutional laws lingering on the books."
"It just makes you wonder how can something like this happen in the United States of America? How can you be arrested for freedom of speech," Gray expressed.
Gray shared that he hopes "the civil rights lawsuits will hold public agencies and law enforcement accountable for violating his civil rights and that they receive training on respecting people's First Amendment rights so they do not violate them in the future."
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