The First Amendment protects Americans' right to protest and the right to political dissent. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

Anthony Edmonson was heading into the dolphin exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo on Sunday when a zoo employee stopped him to talk about his hoodie. 

His black sweatshirt depicted an image of a bullet and a play on words involving a sexual innuendo. "Just the tip," the sweatshirt read. "I promise."

"I never found anyone who took offense to that hoodie," Edmonson said. "I wear that hoodie on a daily basis. One hundred percent of the time, most people think it's a hilarious joke. Somebody probably didn't understand that it was a picture of a bullet. That, or they're very anti-gun."

The 31-year-old Brownsburg resident said he had spent two hours walking around the zoo with friends and family before he was stopped. The employee said another zoo-goer made a complaint and then gave him some options: He could either cover up the sexual innuendo, take off the hoodie or turn it inside out.

"They said they got a complaint about my shirt and asked me to remove it and I refused," Edmonson said. "Because it was my First Amendment right for freedom of speech."

Indianapolis Zoo spokeswoman Judy Palermo said the zoo, a private business, had the right to ask Edmonson to leave. An expert on First Amendment issues contacted by IndyStar agreed with that assessment.

"We are a private nongovernmental organization," she said. "We reserve the right to not allow sexual vulgarity or other offensive language or graphics on clothing, which is inappropriate in a family-friendly setting."

The zoo's dress code is posted at the front gate, the website and on the zoo map, Palermo said.

"Offensive language or graphics on clothing are not appropriate at a family gathering spot like the zoo," she said. "This guest was kindly given an opportunity to stay in the Zoo as long as he covered up the wording on his sweatshirt or removed the clothing or turned it inside out. He chose not to."

When he declined to take it off, the zoo asked him to leave. He was escorted out of the zoo by police officers, who were hired for extra security during the zoo's ZooBoo event.

And that's where the story took a more visible turn. Edmonson asked one of his friends to take a photo of him in the sweatshirt in front of the zoo entrance. He posted the photo to Facebook along with a profanity-laced message criticizing the zoo and whoever made the complaint.

Within hours, the post had gone viral, garnering more than 1,000 comments and 1,100 shares. It was posted to a number of Reddit threads, as well.

"I don't understand none of that," Edmonson said. "I posted it because I was just mad and venting. I can't believe I was asked to actually leave the zoo."

The response became overwhelmingly negative, but that didn't bother him, he said. He eventually deleted the post Tuesday night because he got tired of the Facebook alerts from comments and shares.

"It was so negative," he said. "A lot of people seemed to not like it. People were just so sheltered and they don't understand it. I gave up trying to understand people.

"Other than that, I really don't care. It's not affecting my life any.  I never really cared what people thought about it in the first place."

Edmonson, an Army veteran and fervent Second Amendment support, was surprised his post went viral. He just wanted to go to the zoo, he said.

"I was just shocked that it went as far as it did," he said. "I never thought it was going get this kind of attention."

Call IndyStar reporter Amy Bartner at (317) 444-6752. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Comment by: PHORTO (11/2/2018)
Dense. I mean, I get it, First Amendment and all that.

What he needs to get is that proprietors can set the dress code for their businesses/property if they wish. They are private enterprises, and property rights trump speech rights, unless said property receives gov't funding.

The Bill of Rights sets limits on government, not on the private sector.