A federal judge in White Plains, New York ruled that people have the right to scrawl vulgar terms on government forms as a form of protest. Yes, this is a victory for free speech and the First Amendment that all of us should embrace, even if it means civility and command decency take a hit.
William M. Barboza got a speeding ticket in a town called Liberty, ironically. He made payment, begrudgingly, altering the payment form to call the town “Tyranny” and basically told them to “fuck off”.
A town clerk took offence, showed it to a judge, and before you know it, Barboza was arrested, lectured, and jailed. Barboza is suing the town for failing to train its officers on the First Amendment. Good for him.
People write notes to the IRS, cable-TV vendors, Verizon, and companies all the time, telling them they suck. No one’s prosecuted for it – and with good reason. It’s one thing to threaten to do harm to an entity or individual, it’s another to blow off steam.
Venting is not a crime. Sure, words can hurt. That’s the idea. But they are not the same as a gun, knife, bomb, or a fist. Barboza may be immature, but we can all relate to him. I applaud him for standing up to court elitists and government bullies.
A victory for free speech usually means a few things:
· Someone was vindicated for acting on their First Amendment right.
· Someone else lost even though they may have been well-intentioned.
· Society will observe and learn from the court case and either recognize what’s permissible and move on – or further try to chip away at or overturn the decision by bringing a new case to the court.
So what will we learn here?
· First, civility took a punch to the gut. One may not like being fined or punished by the state for wrong-doing, but that doesn’t mean they should be rude, disrespectful, or vulgar when addressing a government agency.
· Second, the government agency needs to have a thicker skin. Just because someone calls you a name or says something you disagree with, you can’t hit back by arresting and jailing someone.
· Third, even centuries after the Constitution and Bill of Rights granted free speech to Americans, we still have people who don’t know the law and abuse the power of the law to seek to muzzle opposing viewpoints. There will be many more court cases on this topic in the years to come.
The town of Liberty should publicly apologize for wasting tax-payer resources, time, and finances on prosecuting and now defending a case related to nothing more than a name-calling. But if you happen to be passing through the thin-skinned town, don’t speed – otherwise, be prepared to curse up a storm!
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015
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