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Disabled Conscientious Objector Vet Goes Before Judge Over Freedom of Speech

by Cathy Garger Tuesday, Jun. 05, 2007 at 5:18 PM

The Coils were reading when they noticed through a glass window a room in which two military recruiters with a stack of forms were trying to recruit a young man who Tim thought could not have been more than 17 or 18 years old.

Disabled Conscientio...
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Tim Coil, a veteran of the first Gulf War who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will go before a judge in Ohio on Tuesday, June 5 in a court case that may set a historical precedent over a citizen’s right to free speech inside a public library.

Coil was arrested in March on the stated charge of “causing a disturbance within a library”. Police were called on March 12 with regard to a complaint by the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library manager upset about the counter recruiting-related activities on the part of Tim, 40, and his wife, Yvette, 37. The librarian had called the police after the couple’s refusal to honor his demand that they stop opposing the recruiting efforts of two military recruiters trying to sign up a teen inside the library.

On the day of his arrest, Tim, a Conscientious Objector who served in Iraq in 1991, had come along to the Stow Library to read some books while Yvette, a student at Kent State University majoring in Conflict Management, planned to do homework. Neither had any intention of doing counter-recruiting that day when they first set foot in the library. In fact, the couple had never done any counter-recruiting before.

The Coils were reading when they noticed through a glass window a room in which two military recruiters with a stack of forms were trying to recruit a young man who Tim thought could not have been more than 17 or 18 years old. Not wanting to see the young man sign the military enlistment papers, Yvette asked permission from the library staff to put up index cards with messages on them that the young man would be able to see through the glass. The library employee stated that she did not see a problem with it, as long as there was no confrontation.

Tim said, “We weren’t trying to create a ruckus, in no way, shape, or form. We were just putting 3 by 5 cards up. And every time somebody [who worked in the library] would come over… we were like, ‘Wait a minute. Don’t we have first amendment rights? Shouldn’t you be standing up for our first amendment rights? We told that to the library director and to the police and to the recruiters who stole our [index] cards. They confiscated them”.

According to Yvette, “I just couldn’t sit there anymore and let them recruit. I just couldn’t. After sixteen years and going through what I did with Tim, I didn’t want…” her voice trailed. “I felt like it would be blood on my hands if I was okay with this guy enlisting… My point was always with the intention of honesty and good and truth. I didn’t want another guy to come back like Tim. I wanted him to be able to live a life that he could enjoy and not [live] in turmoil - like Tim has. So that was the only reason why I felt we should do what we did… I couldn’t live another day knowing that I was okay that somebody was being recruited.”

Coil’s attorney, William Whitaker, Esq., commented on the legality of Coil’s case and right to free speech: “If a statute punishes this conduct, then that statute is unconstitutional since it sweeps protected speech within its orbit,” he said. “They were engaged in protected First Amendment speech. It’s legitimate to use the public library in the same way that the recruiters were using it.”

The key issue in Coil’s court case on Tuesday will be the violation of his Constitutional right of freedom of speech. When a police officer threatened Tim with arrest for “saying another word”, he realized that his order to be silenced – and subsequent right to free speech was being violated. As Coil was leaving, the upset vet exclaimed out loud, “Don’t recruit in the library”! After making this statement, one of the librarians smiled at Tim in obvious agreement with his counter-recruitment sentiment while Tim Coil was, nonetheless, promptly arrested.

In order to understand the motivation behind the actions taken by Tim and Yvette Coil that day, one must know a bit about the background of their counter-recruitment stance, which began sixteen years earlier. As a soldier who had refused to hold a combat position while an Army Sergeant inside Iraq, Tim’s bold actions and remarks inside the library originated in his experiences with the military that still haunt him to this day.

As a Conscientious Objector who has been twice invited to join the Christian Peacekeeper Team Delegation, Tim Coil prayed to God when he first received military orders in 1991 to go to Iraq. He made the decision to follow through with his orders, believing that God would want him to defend his nation. He made this decision even though his wife had just given birth to their firstborn only two days earlier.

Doing what he perceived as the “right thing” (i.e., serving his country in a non-violent capacity) seemed only natural to Tim, a Mennonite of strong spiritual faith. Although his conscience would not allow him to engage in combat, carry a weapon, or kill, Tim felt that serving in Iraq and going to the aid of his nation was the right thing to do – even given the fact that his wife was in the hospital, having just undergone a cesarean section two days earlier with their newborn son, and would be left alone in Germany to care for their first born. According to Tim, “My son was two or three days old when I left. I went back to Yvette,” he said, “and I explained to her that they [his supervisor] had threatened to take me in chains.”

Despite explaining his family’s situation, Tim’s supervisor reportedly did not inform him of the option of requesting a “family hardship” concession. This would probably have been granted since Yvette had just undergone major surgery, there was no one to help with a newborn, and she did not have a driver’s license to purchase groceries while in Germany. Instead, Tim’s supervisor had actually informed him that if he made the decision not to join them in Iraq, that they were going to come get him and drag him there anyway in chains.

After speaking with Yvette in the hospital, praying some more, and feeling a strong desire “to be loyal to God”, Tim reasoned, “Maybe it’s best that I go, but that I don’t carry a weapon, so that there’s no opportunity for somebody to be in my place and take that opportunity to kill somebody. I didn’t want somebody being in my shoes and then using a weapon and killing somebody. By me doing what I was doing, I felt like I was helping to prevent somebody from dying.”

So perhaps the real story is not so much about a warm-hearted veteran making a counter-recruitment comment after having his right to free speech violated after being ordered to silence by a police officer. More to the point, the story behind the story actually involves the sad tale of a mentally damaged, physically sick, and war-torn veteran suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who was willing to take a stand in a public place so that no other young person would be forced to experience what he had been put through in the military – and continues to go through – every day of his life.

Tim’s library “disturbance” was simply one of a disabled vet trying to stop a young man from being enlisted in order to save him from the hellish nightmare he had experienced as an Army sergeant in Iraq and in subsequent years thereafter.

In a phone interview, Tim Coil stated, “These are young kids, just like I was when I was younger. And it hurts to know that there are kids out there who are going to be just like me. They are going to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and they’re going to have mental injuries, physical injuries…. possibly not come back at all…” Tim’s sad voice disappeared into a long pause of silence. He added softly, “Basically, I was trying to show love for this kid, as a Christian”.

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