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Judges order injunction against enforcement of permit policy

February 4, 2014

A man who wanted to protest a proposed United Nations arms treaty on Indianapolis’ Monument Circle in 2012 but was kicked off the property because of a lack of permit was victorious in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday.

Eric Smith and his son sought to protest the Arms Trade Treaty on the Circle. They made flyers announcing the protest, but no one showed up except the two of them. The Circle is an outdoor state-run public property; the Indiana War Memorials Commission supervises the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Monument Circle.

Once they began protesting, a commission employee asked if Smith had an event permit. Since he did not, the employee told the two to leave the property. They moved after state police arrived.

Smith sued in federal court, claiming the commission’s permit policy – which was unwritten at the time – violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Christina Gaither, the commission’s director of administration, testified about the policy, which revealed numerous inconsistencies. For example, the policy would require Smith to get a permit, but 25 people could gather for lunch on the Circle and not need a permit. She was uncertain if those people would need a permit if they wore political T-shirts during the meal.

The commission claims Smith’s appeal of the denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction is moot because they have since enacted a written permit policy.

But in Eric Smith v. Executive Director of the Indiana War Memorials Commission, et al., 13-1939, the 7th Circuit noted that the new policy retains the problematic features of the old policy, so the appeal is not moot.  Judge David Hamilton noted that although the amended policy has an exception for groups smaller than fifteen, it also contains so many
exceptions to that exception that it still requires permits for many smaller events, including events like Smith’s July 2012 protest of the arms treaty and others he is likely to organize in the future.

The judges found Smith made the necessary showing to obtain a preliminary injunction, so they ordered the District Court to determine the proper scope of the injunction, including whether it should extend beyond Monument Circle to other properties the commission administers.

“As we have explained, the number of people who must be allowed to gather without a permit may depend on the specifics of the space in question. We decide here only that Smith appears likely to prove at trial that fifteen is too small a number to trigger a permit requirement for Monument Circle and that he has met the other requirements for preliminary injunctive relief,” Hamilton wrote.
 

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