Veteran arrested for holding up a sign saying 'God bless the homeless Vets'
(Photo courtesy of Lacy Jessica Photography)

Jeff Gray was holding up a sign reading "God Bless the Homeless Vets" when he was arrested for panhandling. He says he wasn't panhandling, however. The retired truck driver has been stopped, searched and arrested by the police for holding up signs in front of city halls all across the country.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has filed two lawsuits this week on behalf of Gray saying that his First Amendment rights were violated by the cities of Alpharetta and Blackshear, both in Georgia, the site said.

“I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” said Gray. “My intention is to ensure that all Americans from the wealthiest millionaire to the poorest homeless person can exercise these rights without fear of consequence from our government.”

In Alpharetta, Gray held the sign to raise awareness of the plight of homeless veterans. Police first told him he was "panhandling," though Gray was not asking for any money. He explained he wasn't and noted he was only holding the sign.

IN OTHER NEWS: George Santos angrily reacts to news of investigation into his alleged theft of dog's charity money

Like many altercations with police, Gray pulled out a camera, which police then turned off. The lieutenant then asked for identification, searching him for it, which the group said violated his First Amendment right not to speak and identify himself. Finally, the lieutenant banned Gray from the area, which the group explained violates his right to free expression.

“If this is how Alpharetta police treat a guy with a camera, how do they act the rest of the time?” said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. “The First Amendment protects the right to hold up a sign — and it certainly protects the right to film police activity in a public space.”

In the town of Blackshear, the police chief was the one who approached Gray, saying that their city requires he have a permit for a “parade, procession, or demonstration” if he intends to hold a sign outside of city hall.

Police Chief Chris Wright admitted it was “kind of silly." The group noted that a local ordinance "nearly identical" was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1969.

“Jeff Gray doesn’t need a government-issued permission slip to speak — the First Amendment is his permission slip,” the group's attorney, Harrison Rosenthal explained. “Speaking out in public areas is a core First Amendment right, whether government officials recognize it or not. If our cities won’t teach officers to do their job properly, FIRE will.”

Read the full report at the FIRE website.