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Washington State Justices Find Horn-Honking Restrictions Violate Free Speech Rights

Posted Nov 1, 2011 9:56 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Washington State woman who contended she had a free speech right to honk her horn outside the home of a neighbor has won her appeal before the state supreme court.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in an en banc opinion (PDF) last Thursday that horn-honking can constitute protected speech, the Legal Profession Blog reports. The court overturned an ordinance that banned horn-honking except for public safety or officially sanctioned public events.

The decision overturns Helen Immelt’s conviction for violating the Snohomish County horn ordinance, according to the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Immelt’s horn-honking was in retaliation for a neighbor’s complaint to a homeowners association about Immelt’s backyard chickens, according to the decision. Immelt parked in front of the neighbor’s house at 6 a.m. and honked the horn for five to 10 minutes.

The opinion said horn-honking can communicate a message. According to the opinion, “Examples might include: a driver of a carpool vehicle who toots a horn to let a coworker know it is time to go, a driver who enthusiastically responds to a sign that says ‘honk if you support our troops,’ wedding guests who celebrate nuptials by sounding their horns, and a motorist who honks a horn in support of an individual picketing on a street corner.”

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