'Constitutional illiteracy' of cops in one state faces challenge

July 23, 2023
World Net Daily

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

"Constitutional illiteracy" likely could create great problems for police officers.

And it is, according to a lawsuit brought by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

The organization has fought the same dispute several times, and the latest is a case on behalf of Jeff Gray, who is challenging his arrest by a Port Wentworth, Ga., officer.

The FIRE earlier fought similar cases involving the same individual, and departments in Alpharetta and Blackshear, Georgia.

"Police in Georgia keep failing an easy test: Does the First Amendment protect the right to hold a sign reading 'God Bless the Homeless Vets' in front of city hall and the right to film police officers in public? Spoiler alert: It sure does," the organization reported.

"In Port Wentworth, Georgia, my rights were violated upon the whim of government employees," Gray explained in a report by The FIRE. "Now I am honored to be working with FIRE to ensure that never happens again."

Gray, a veteran, and retired trucker, created a YouTube channel in 2011 to post recordings he made.

"The videos show Gray peacefully asserting his rights in towns across the southeastern U.S. and documenting whether government officials understand and respect civil liberties. He posts both positive and negative interactions with police, hoping to ensure that law enforcement officers everywhere will honor their oath to 'support and defend' the Constitution," the report said.

In Port Wentworth, he held a cardboard sign saying, "Got Bless the Homeless Vets" at city hall.

"In conversations caught on the officer’s body camera, then-Sgt. Robert Hemminger acknowledged to city employees — and Gray, repeatedly — that Gray wasn’t doing anything unlawful," the report said.

City employees, however, insisted that he be forced to leave.

Hemminger then claimed the sidewalks were private property, and finally detained him.

Gray was accused of "obstruction," a misdemeanor, and essentially banned forever from the public walkway there.

"Public sidewalks are not private property, as the name suggests," charged FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. "Jeff had every right to share his message that day, whether Port Wentworth’s city hall liked it or not."

It took two years for the charge to be dropped.

"No matter how many lawsuits it takes, FIRE will zealously defend what should be an unambiguous right — to peaceably hold a sign in front of city hall," said FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal.

The case seeks a declaration that Hemminger violated Gray's constitutional rights, plus an award of punitive damages.

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