This article originally appeared on WND.com
Guest by post by Bob Unruh
Activist has challenged censorship schemes in multiple towns
An activist who has been traveling among cities promoting the message “God Bless the Homeless Vets” is settling a lawsuit with a Georgia city that censored his First Amendment rights by having an officer arrest him.
The settlement is coming from the city of Port Wentworth, Georgia, which has apologized to Jeff Gray and is paying settlements of $1,791 to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, to Gray and to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which worked on his cases.
“Port Wentworth will also maintain the public space in front of city hall as an open public forum and train its officers on citizens’ First Amendment rights,” FIRE confirmed in its report on the case.
The lawsuit had charged that city officials violated the First Amendment when officials told police to arrest Gray.
“Port Wentworth found out the hard way that it can’t try to bulldoze my rights and get away with it,” said Gray, who regularly examines whether government officials know and respect citizens’ First Amendment rights. “I’m thankful for the outcome here, but I won’t stop speaking out on behalf of myself and my fellow citizens.”
The activist also has had pending cases against Alpharetta, Georgia, and two police officers, and the chief of police in Blackshear, Georgia, for similar situations.
It was in 2021 that Gray was arrested in Port Wentworth by then-Sgt. Robert Hemminger.
“In conversations caught on the officer’s body camera, Hemminger acknowledged to city employees — and Gray, repeatedly — that Gray wasn’t doing anything unlawful. But the employees adamantly insisted they didn’t want Gray there, saying, ‘He can’t stand in front of our city hall talking about ‘support the homeless vets.’ We can’t have that.’” FIRE reported.
FIRE said Gray was arrested when Hemminger claimed the city hall’s public sidewalks actually were private property.
“Hemminger’s body camera then captured the sergeant explaining that he had arrested Gray because Gray was playing a ‘game’ by standing up for his rights,” FIRE reported.
“If police departments do not create a culture of respect for constitutional rights, their officers will view them as a game,” said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. “When police officers treat the Constitution as a game, we all lose.”
Gray has been promoting what he calls his “civil rights investigations” for several years on social media.
“He peacefully asserts his rights in towns across the southeastern U.S. and records whether government officials understand and respect citizens’ rights. He posts both positive and negative interactions with police to ensure that law enforcement honor their oaths to ‘support and defend’ the Constitution,” FIRE reported.
In the case against Blackshear, officials have agreed to eliminate an unconstitutional requirement for the mayor’s permission to demonstrate, while the case involving Alpharetta remains pending.
FIRE brought the Port Wentworth and Blackshear lawsuits in collaboration with UGA’s First Amendment Clinic, which provides law students with real-world practice experience directly representing clients on First Amendment claims.
WND previously reported Gray, a veteran and retired trucker, created a YouTube channel in 2011 to post recordings he made.
In Port Wentworth, he held a cardboard sign saying, “Got Bless the Homeless Vets” at city hall, and was arrested.
Copyright 2023 WND News Center