October 31, 2008 – An Iraq war veteran who now opposes the conflict said his First Amendment rights were violated when he was removed from last weekend’s Bellmore Street Festival, where he had set up a last-minute display.
The Chamber of Commerce of the Bellmores, which organized the annual festival, denies the removal constituted a free-speech violation, contending it was justified because he was there without permission.
Kristofer Goldsmith, 23, of Bellmore, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2005, initially had applied for, and received, a spot to represent the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. The festival, originally scheduled for September, was postponed and, when it was rescheduled, Chamber of Commerce staff told him they no longer had enough space to accommodate his table.
Goldsmith attended Sunday’s fair and shared space with a local Democratic club before moving to a vacant table nearby, where he placed voter guides and photos of soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
About two hours later, he said, Chamber of Commerce staff insisted he leave. Goldsmith said he believes his anti-war sentiments were the cause.
Goldsmith has testified before Congress and spoken at local colleges about his war views. “I’m absolutely disgusted that anyone would try and say that I didn’t earn my First Amendment rights,” he said. “I’ve never walked into such trouble with setting up a table and getting my views across.”
Joni Caputo, festival coordinator and Chamber of Commerce executive director, said Goldsmith was not the only festival exhibitor removed from the original lineup when the date was rescheduled. The removals were a result of last-minute space constraints, she said. She could not provide the number of exhibitors affected.
She said if Goldsmith had asked her for a spot at an empty table, instead of setting up without approval, he wouldn’t have been asked to leave. “Nobody is allowed to come into the festival without permission,” she said. “Nobody is allowed to share space.”
Caputo said Goldsmith was invited to next year’s fair. “Did we have anything against Kris or his organization?” she said. “Absolutely not.”
The Nassau Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union is investigating the situation, said executive director Tara Keenan-Thomson.
“We’re researching what the legalities are,” she said, “and we intend to inquire about the selection process of different groups for the event.”
A spokesman for the Nassau police, who were at the festival, said no one was arrested.