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

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

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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.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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