The F-Bomb: Protected By The 1st Amendment?

<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Middle_finger.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


It’s a good thing VP Joe Biden wasn’t in Pennsylvania when he exclaimed that passing health care reform was a “big fucking deal.” He might have found himself in trouble with the law. Apparently Pennsylvania law enforcement has aggressively ticketed and even jailed people for cursing, especially when the cursing was aimed at a police officer. But it turns out that swearing is not a crime. Indeed, it’s very much protected free speech. No surprise, then, that the ACLU is now suing the state police commissioner on behalf of several people cited for cussing, including a mother of three who called a motorcycle driver an asshole after he nearly ran her over while she was out walking. When she called the police to report the incident, the cops cited her for swearing. Such cases are apparently commonplace. The Legal Intelligencer reports:

The ACLU has successfully defended about a dozen individuals against such charges, including Dawn Herb, a Scranton, Pa., woman, who swore at her clogged toilet in her home, and David Hackbart, a Pittsburgh man who “flipped off” a police officer with a middle-finger gesture in a dispute over a parking space. Hackbart’s case revealed that the Pittsburgh police had cited people for profanity about 200 times over a four-year period, and resulted in a $50,000 settlement in fall 2009.

While you never want to see cops violating people’s civil rights, perhaps the Pennsylvania war on swearing is a good sign: The crime rate these days must be low enough that the state’s police officers have nothing better to do than ticket women cursing out their clogged toilets. Still, as an ACLU lawyer told the Intelligencer,  “We hope this lawsuit helps teach the state police an important lesson about respecting how people choose to express themselves.”

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up to $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate