Eric Smith, of Lebanon, Ind., came to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis in July 2012 to express his opposition to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which he believed threatened his Second Amendment rights.
Instead, the trip became a lesson in his First Amendment rights. Smith, a disabled veteran, and his 10 year-old son were told they would be arrested if Smith did not leave the public space because he did not have a state permit allowing him to exercise his First Amendment right to protest.
You have the right to non-disruptive, free expression on public property.
The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit on Smith's behalf against the Indiana War Memorials Commission and the Indiana State Police officers who threatened to arrest him. The suit challenged the Commission's policy requiring a permit for even small numbers of people. We claimed the permit process was an unnecessary burden for a person to go through in order to carry a protest sign. Smith and his son were not endangering others, being disruptive, or committing unlawful actions.
The District Court ruled against the preliminary injunction request, but in February 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision in a unanimous ruling. The Court stressed that the permit policy did not appear to be narrowly tailored to meet a significant government interest. The Court also found that the policy allowed Commission staff too much "unbridled discretion" concerning permitting decisions and that such a system can invite abuse because it is not "content-neutral."