City unable to limit profane political speech

Political speech is protected by the First Amendment, even if it’s profane.

City of Warren Manager Nancy Freenock said the city has received complaints about campaign flags.

The flags, supporting President Donald Trump in the upcoming election, include phrases such as “No More Bull…” and “(Expletive) Your Feelings.”

“The city is not in a position to take any action as the political flags and signs are protected by the First Amendment,” Freenock explained, citing a Supreme Court case from the early 1970s.

“The City can regulate the size of signs and in some instances can regulate content,” Freenock added. “For example, speech which could incite one to riot is not acceptable nor is yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater when there is no fire.”

That case, Cohen v. California, challenged a conviction of a man wearing a jacket with the phrase “(expletive) the Draft” at the Los Angeles Courthouse who was sentenced to 30 days incarceration.

“This case may seem at first blush too inconsequential to find its way into our books, but the issue it presents is of no small constitutional significance,” the court found. “(I)n arguments before this Court much has been made of the claim that Cohen’s distasteful mode of expression was thrust upon unwilling or unsuspecting viewers, and that the State might therefore legitimately act as it did in order to protect the sensitive from otherwise unavoidable exposure to appellant’s crude form of protest. Of course, the mere presumed presence of unwitting listeners or viewers does not serve automatically to justify curtailing all speech capable of giving offense

In this regard, persons confronted with Cohen’s jacket were in a quite different posture than, say, those subjected to the raucous emissions of sound trucks blaring outside their residences.

Those in the Los Angeles courthouse could effectively avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities simply by averting their eyes. …The constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine in a society as diverse and populous as ours. It is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, in the hope that use of such freedom will ultimately produce a more capable citizenry and more perfect polity and in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests.


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