Judge Rules Flipping the Bird Was Free Speech
Posted Mar 26, 2009 2:29 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A motorist who flipped off a police officer and received a disorderly conduct ticket has won a ruling that his gesture was protected by the First Amendment.
David Hackbart first gave the bird to a motorist who blocked his parking space, and then to a voice telling him to stop—which turned out to be that of an officer, according to the opinion (PDF posted by the Wall Street Journal) by U.S. District Judge David Cercone of Pittsburgh.
"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 [the officer]," Cercone wrote. "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."
Cercone granted Hackbart's motion for summary judgment and allowed the civil rights lawsuit to proceed to trial on related issues, according to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Hackbart is claiming the incident caused him physical pain and suffering, emotional trauma, humiliation and distress, according to Legal Blog Watch, citing a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.