Eric Smith is a disabled war veteran who decided to protest the United States’ involvement with a global arms-trade treaty by standing on the steps of Indiana’s most famous war monument with protest signs in hand and his 10-year-old son at his side.
But because Smith didn’t have a permit to do so, he wasn’t there long before he was told to leave or risk being arrested.
That incident, which took place in July on the steps of the soaring Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis, is now at the center of a civil liberties lawsuit that challenges the permit policies of the Indiana War Memorials Commission.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit on Smith’s behalf against the commission, which oversees the state’s public war memorials including the much-visited memorial on Monument Circle.
The lawsuit alleges Smith’s First Amendment right to protest was violated with the threat of arrest. The ACLU said it’s challenging the commission’s policy “requiring a permit for even small numbers of people to engage in expressive activity on state property.”
“Hundreds of thousands of individuals visit Monument Circle every year,” said ACLU Executive Director Jane Henegar, in a press release. “Requiring every single person, much less a veteran who has fought to protect our liberties, to apply for a permit to carry a protest sign is an unnecessary burden on the First Amendment.”
Smith, who suffered injuries during the Iraq War, including the loss of vision in one eye, views it that way too. He said he wasn’t with a crowd of protesters, wasn’t being disruptive, or blocking any entrances or exits to the structure. He was armed with signs bearing messages that contained his opposition to a United Nations’ arms-trade treaty that he said wasn’t getting enough media attention.