It’s your right to curse the president, Jersey-style | Editorial

Posted Jul 28, 2021

The borough of Roselle Park made the right call on Tuesday to dismiss its case against a Trump supporter who posted profane signs against the President of the United States.

The borough’s lawyer claimed this was no defeat: “The continued attention garnered by the inappropriate display and the escalating costs to the taxpayers of continuing to litigate the matter causes far greater harm to the Borough, as a whole, than good,” Jarrid Kantor said in a statement.

But it’s not hard to read between the lines here – the real reason taxpayers can’t afford this is that it’s a losing fight. An inappropriate display? Sure. But as the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was prepared to argue on appeal in Superior Court, it’s perfectly legal.

Gary Bundy, the municipal judge who ordered Andrea Dick to remove her banners cursing President Biden posted on her mother’s fence, clearly violated her First Amendment rights.

The boundaries of free speech can be a tricky question, but this case was not a close call. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled political signs are a particularly important, protected form of speech. That applies to “Don’t Blame Me/I Voted for Trump,” as well as the other signs attacking Joe Biden with much cruder language – not among the words kids spell out in a spelling bee, as Judge Bundy noted.

Towns can make reasonable, content-neutral limitations on speech, Alexander Shalom of the ACLU explains, such as a rule that says signs must be of a particular size; which applies whether you’re talking about Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, or advertising your garage sale.

What the government cannot do is target the content of the speech, because it’s protected under the First Amendment. Which is why the Westboro Baptist Church can carry signs like “God Hates Fags” outside a funeral for a U.S. soldier, or Ku Klux Klan members can march in the street.

Obscenity is not protected under First Amendment rights to free speech, but you have to pass what’s known as the “Miller test”: One of the three criteria is that the work, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Had Andrea Dick put up a sign using the same profane word, but with a Jersey flourish, applied it to everything, this might have been a more interesting legal question, Shalom says. Her speech was denouncing a sitting president, though, an obviously political statement: “The government doesn’t get to tell you how to criticize it,” he said.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 made explicitly clear the right to use the F-word in political banners. After a draft protestor wore a jacket emblazoned with the same word, his lawyer argued this was protected political speech, not an obscenity, because his client was “not actually advocating sexual intercourse with the Selective Service.”

The high court agreed, brushing aside the same argument now being used by Roselle Park, that innocent children would be forced to see this horrid word. Anyone offended “could effectively avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities by averting their eyes,” the Supreme Court said.

The bottom line is, the government can’t infringe on your right to curse out the president to protect public morality, because “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric,” the court said. Is this really such a hard concept to accept, here in New Jersey?

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-07-29 02:35:37 -0700