Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

June 28, 2012

American Legion members challenge Indiana smoking ban

LIGONIER —  When you walk in the door to the Ligonier American Legion Post 243, you smell smoke.

And, according to the members of the Legion, it’s their right to smoke wherever they want to — which disagrees with the upcoming statewide smoking ban coming into effect Sunday.

“We’re tired of losing all of our freedoms,” Finances Officer James “Andy” Anderson said. “This isn’t about smoking.”

Anderson, who was acting as bartender Wednesday, said that about half of those who frequent the Legion smoke. Between 25 and 50 people stop into the Legion daily, either to have a drink at the bar, spend time with friends or use the computer, among other things.

The Legion filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit states that the ban is too vague, and it violates the state and federal constitutions equal protection clause. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the ban from taking effect.

“We hope to be successful,” Anderson said. “Our lawyer said it’ll be a tough case, and it’s going to be expensive.”

Anderson said they’re thinking about a fundraiser to gather money to pay legal fees, but nothing has been finalized.

The main part of the new law the Legion has trouble with is the stipulation that places that allow smoking must ban those younger than 18. The Legion qualifies for an exemption from the smoking ban because it’s a private club. However, under the new law, any establishment that still has smoking on the premises must ban those younger than 18, according to Anderson. The Legion is an all-ages establishment, with young children coming in daily to use the computer and spend time with family and friends.

“This is a friendly place, as you can see,” Anderson said, gesturing behind the bar.

Several visitors said they agree with Anderson and the lawsuit. Larry LeCount, a 13-year member of the Legion, said he enjoys smoking, and wants everything to stay unchanged.

“They’re taking my freedom away from me,” LeCount, a lifelong Ligonier resident, said. “I’ve smoked all my life, and I’ve always smoked in a bar.”

LeCount said he would adjust if the ban was enforced, but he doesn’t want to.

“Oh well, I guess it happens,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s right.”

Lauren Bishop, the commander of the Sons of the American Legion, said he was involved with the decision to file a lawsuit, which was made on Memorial Day.

“It’s our freedom to do what we want to do,” he said. “We should have the right to do what we want without the government telling us, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’”

Legion member Mary Trowbridge said she doesn’t like what the Indiana state government has done.

“They’re taking it away from us — our freedom,” she said. “I don’t like a lot of things (the governor did).”

Trowbridge said she doesn’t smoke but doesn’t mind being around those who do.

“If they don’t want to smoke, they don’t have to come here,” she said. “This is for the veterans to have a private place to come into to enjoy themselves without someone telling them to do this or that.”

Anderson said that if the lawsuit isn’t found in favor of the Legion, they will adjust.

The Legion will most likely ban those under the age of 18 from entering the establishment, though an exact final decision has not been reached, according to Bishop.

“We won’t break the law, even though we don’t like it,” Anderson said. “It’s about the freedom of choice.”

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