Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Very Idea of a Bird

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life . . . how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!
- John Burroughs
. . . and perhaps also a symbol and suggestion to David Hackbart of Pennsylvania, who was inspired to give Sergeant Brian Elledge the finger moments before the Pittsburgh police officer pulled him over. As you probably guessed, the finger and the traffic stop were highly related, but luckily for Mr. Hackbart, the finger turns out to be a constitutionally protected speech act.

Memorandum here, discussion here. Just don't get carried away -- not every gesture is a protected gesture.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hackbart, in this instance, was expressing his frustration and anger when he gestured with his middle finger to both the driver behind him and to Elledge. Both gestures are protected expressions under the First Amendment, unless they fall within a narrowly limited category of unprotected speech such as obscene speech or fighting words.

Why isn't flipping somebody off considered obscene? Doesn't it mean something fairly obscene?

3/25/2009 4:25 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Hmm . . . it means "f-ck you." To me, those are much closer to "fighting words" than they are to obscenity.

3/25/2009 4:30 PM  
Blogger Callagy said...

Read the opinion; it addresses that argument.

After seeing so many bad 1983 suits, reading about this one brightened my day. And when was the last time a court found a genuine issue of fact on a Monell liability claim?

This also reminds me of why America is so great. When I was living in Germany, a famous footballer was ticketed for "Beamtenbeleidigung," or insulting a civil servant, when he called a highway trooper an "Aschloch" (a-hole). His challenge to the statute on free speech grounds was rejected by the Federal Constitutional Court.

3/26/2009 5:02 PM  

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