Q: I was just arrested for saying the word “pussies” (referring to the lack of courage) at a city council podium, after of course signing up and being called up to speak.
They have since added three other charges, four total, based on my use of “colorful” language at other city council meetings.
I’ve already tried an exparte injunction against the city but the response has been “you better not go to these meetings until you find out what words not to use” as well as the admonishment that “certain words can only be used in a bar.” I thought that no word is illegal in this country, but apparently these judges just ignore constitutional law.
My question for you: can you offer me the best, most recent high court cases that state you can use any word while (well within time/place/and manner restrictions to talk) you are speaking your peace up at the podium. I’m doing everything I can, but need all the help I can for standing up for this right both on the criminal and civil side of this issue in court re the cases I have.
A: A good starting point for you might be the case Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) (available at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0403_0015_ZS.htm), in which the Supreme Court overturned a conviction based on an individual’s wearing a jacket that said “Fuck the Draft.”
In that case, the Court said that the state “may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display here involved of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense.” Id. at 26.
If you are interested in finding an attorney who might be able to represent you in connection with these charges, you might try the First Amendment Coalition’s Lawyer’s Assistance Request Form at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/legal-hotline/lawyers-assistance-request-form/.
Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.