Jeff Gray, a U.S. Army veteran and retired truck driver, likes to raise awareness of the plight of homeless veterans and test how local governments, police officers, and members of the public respond to protected speech under the First Amendment. In doing so, he has been repeatedly stopped, detained, searched, and arrested for standing outside of city halls holding a sign that reads, "God Bless the Homeless Vets."
Gray asserts that he does not do this to criticize police; he uploads videos to YouTube showing their positive and negative responses. But the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is representing him in two cases.
One is against the city of Alpharetta, Georgia, where a police officer in January 2022 stopped Gray from holding his sign.
"The officer said that Jeff was panhandling and that panhandling is unlawful," relays FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. "The officer then turned off Jeff's camera so that he couldn't video record what was happening. The First Amendment protects the right to record police officers in public. So this officer repeatedly violated Jeff's rights, and we're suing to vindicate those rights."
He notes that even if Gray had been panhandling, asking other people for help is likewise protected by the First Amendment.
FIRE is also representing Gray in a lawsuit in Blackshear, Georgia, where he was told he had to ask for and receive permission from the city before engaging in protected speech.
"You don't need permission from the government to engage in speech protected by the First Amendment," the attorney asserts. "The First Amendment is your permit to speak."
In that case, FIRE wants the city to rescind that ordinance and ensure that nobody else is required to get unnecessary permission to talk.