ROSELLE PARK, NJ – A Municipal Court judge in New Jersey has ordered a property owner to remove flags from their property that contained profanity or face daily fines of $250, proclaiming that the First Amendment does not protect speech containing vulgarities.
Judge orders woman to remove 'F*** Biden' flags or face daily $250 fines: 'We're going into censorship' https://t.co/QrzXrelZf9
— TheBlaze (@theblaze) July 18, 2021
A woman in Roselle Park, New Jersey, identified as Andrea Dick, managed to attract the ire of some locals and even Democratic Mayor Joseph Signorello over a handful of flags hanging on a fence at her property that contain profanities that denigrate President Joe Biden.
The flags in question are contain the following words/imagery:
- “Don’t Blame Me I Voted For Trump”
- “Joe Biden Sucks”
- “Fuck Biden”
- “Fuck Biden Not My President”
- “Socialism Sucks Biden Blows”
- One flag depicts former President Trump extending two middle fingers and is captioned with “Fuck Biden”
Mayor Signorello claims that the flags violate the town ordinance that prohibits “obscene materials” due to the profanities and vulgar imagery present on the flags.
According to the municipal code regarding what defines “obscene materials”, the following is written:
“The word ‘obscene’ shall mean any material, communication or performance which the average person applying contemporary community standards existing within the municipality, would find, when considered as a whole:
- Appeals to the prurient interest;
- Depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct as hereinafter specifically defined, or depicts or exhibits offensive nakedness as hereinafter specifically defined; and
- Lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
For clarification purposes, the definition of prurient is “marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual desire”, and section “b” of the municipal code outlines descriptions or images of “sexual conduct” and/or “offensive nakedness”.
In short, the “obscene materials” municipal code strictly relates to pornographic imagery or graphic descriptions and must appeal “to the prurient interest” – meaning it would have to essentially pose the likelihood of getting someone sexually aroused when coming across it.
Yet, Mayor Signorello told local news outlet NJ.com that action needed to be taken because parents complained about their kids seeing the vulgar language on display:
“It’s been brought to our attention less because of the political aspect of it, but the vulgarity of it. The real problem is, from a neighbor perspective, is it’s a block away from an elementary school. It’s in a high visibility area for children. Most of the ire was drawn from a lot of local parents.”
Back in June, when Dick started getting harassed by the city to remove the flags or face potential fines, she stood her ground and proclaimed that she had every right to hang her flags on the property.
On July 15th, Roselle Park Municipal Court Judge Gary Bundy ordered Dick, as well as her mother Patricia Dilascio who is the listed property owner, to have the flags removed or else face fines of $250 a day.
In Judge Bundy’s decision on the case, he ruled that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the display of expletives:
“This is not a case about politics. It is a case, pure and simple, about language. This ordinance does not restrict political speech. Neither this town or its laws may abridge or eliminate Ms. Dilascio’s freedom of speech.”
“However, freedom of speech is not simply an absolute right. It is clear from state law and statutes that we cannot simply put up the umbrella of the First Amendment and say everything and anything is protected speech.”
Michael Campagna, who is representing the family, claimed that ordering Dick to remove the flags is tantamount to “censorship”:
“I am a firm believer in the First Amendment. I may not believe in what you’re saying, but I absolutely believe that you have the right to say it. That’s what our democracy is about. If you tell people that they cannot say something, that they cannot print something, that they cannot put a sign up, we’re going into censorship.”
What is interesting in the case is that Judge Bundy’s decision flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in Cohen v. California, where the Supreme Court found that a man wearing a jacket saying “Fuck the Draft” inside of a courthouse could not be convicted under a local disturbing the peace law.
In that 1971 case, Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote:
“[W]hile the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”
Justice Harlan reasoned that “governments might soon seize upon the censorship of particular words as a convenient guise for banning the expression of unpopular views” and determined that a profane word, even on a jacket, cannot be banned under the First Amendment.
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This isn’t the first time we at Law Enforcement Today have reported on potential legal action against anti-Biden flags containing profanity, as a similar issue cropped up in late April over in Indiana.
Here’s that previous report.
HAMMOND, IN – The mayor of the city of Hammond had threatened to utilize vulgarity codes related to city ordinance against a local resident who was flying on his property a flag that read “Fuck Biden and fuck you for voting for him.”
Reportedly the local took the flag down, but only after the mayor had stepped up and apologized for threatening to utilize city ordinance against the individual.
"This is private property and I have the right to do what I want to do on my own personal property within the law," the homeowner said. "I'm not offending nobody." He said people drive by all day honking their… https://t.co/Df7cqco17H
— Wisconsin State Journal (@WiStateJournal) April 27, 2021
Roy Steffan is the owner of the flag that garnered local attention, having lived on the corner of Old Columbia Avenue and River Drive for roughly 50 years and flying all sorts of different flags while having lived there.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who is a self-admitted President Biden supporter, alleged that he’d began to accrue complaints regarding the anti-Biden flag being visible from a nearby children’s park.
Tracy Gerig, a local who’s seen the flag visible from Riverside Park during children’s baseball tournaments, stated the following about it:
“I think the flag is disgusting, and I’ve only seen him fly it during games. It’s embarrassing for our city. I’m all about free speech, but not that in the presence of children.”
Much of the controversy around this flag really picked up steam after Mayor Thomas McDermott tweeted the following on April 26th:
“This is how a [Trump supporter] in [the city of Hammond] shows his support of the former President – flying supportive flags with vulgar & threatening language to President [Biden] & his supporters. This house across the street from a city park where dozens of kids gather & play.”
— Thomas McDermott (@tommcdermottjr) April 26, 2021
While the flag itself may be vulgar, there isn’t any “threatening” language associated with the flag showing general anti-Biden sentiments.
When initially addressing the matter, Mayor McDermott stated that he would attempt to utilize city code to compel Steffan to remove the flag from his yard:
“This is complaint-driven. The neighbors and the parents across the street complained to us and we have a job to do. It’s very clear that you can’t have vulgar messages on flags or signs, and this is clearly a violation of city ordinance.”
Mayor McDermott proclaims that he’d treat someone flying an anti-Trump flag the same if it hosted similar language and was publicly presented as Steffan’s flag:
“It has nothing to do with the message, it has to do with the location and the vulgarity.”
When first approached with this, Steffan proclaimed that he was going to push back against the requests and see what the courts would have to say on the matter:
“If they want to take me to court, and waste the taxpayers’ time and money, well be my guest because they’re the one that’s going to pay for it, not I. I’ll go with the Constitution, and the Constitution says I have the right to do what I’m doing.”
However, the matter never wound up having the courts or city ordinances formally injected into the equation.
Following the local media attraction regarding the incident, Mayor McDermott opted to go to Steffan’s home personally to discuss the matter to seek a resolution.
The city mayor had admitted that it was “dumb” for him to have initially addressed the issue by threatening the use of city code against Steffan.
Steffan had reportedly removed the flag from his front yard, which Mayor McDermott still proclaims his only issue with the particular flag was due to the vulgarities emblazoned on the flag:
“He flies nine flags — one has vulgarity on it, and he’s flying it in front of a park where kids play. I don’t have a problem with the other flags. And he took it down, so as long as it’s not visible, he can fly it in his basement.”
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