ACLU: First Amendment Protects Cursing Brighton Teen From Fine

The Michigan ACLU contends that a Brighton teen's public cursing, which was punished by local police with a $200.00 ticket, is protected speech under the 1st Amendment.

From the Livingston Daily:

"Some people believe a Brighton teenager ticketed and fined $200 for disorderly conduct for swearing near a popular downtown playground got what he deserved.

Others, however, are rallying to his support and defending the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. One congressional candidate is planning to hold a rally May 31 in downtown Brighton to protest the actions of the Brighton Police Department.

[']Courts across the country have consistently ruled that cursing is speech protected by the First Amendment, regardless if people are within earshot,['] said Rana Elmir, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Elmir said cursing is protected even it occurs in front of women and children.

The organization won a case in 2002 for the [']cussing canoeist,['] which gained widespread coverage. In 1998, Timothy Boomer was ticketed by an Arenac County sheriff’s deputy for violating a law against swearing in front of women and children. Boomer yelled a stream of profanities after falling out of his canoe and into the Rifle River. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the canoeist’s right to profanity, ruling in People v. Boomer that the law was unconstitutionally vague.

[']I think we would all be in trouble if swearing wasn’t protected speech,['] Elmir said.

Elmir said she couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case involving Colin Andersen, the 19-year-old ticketed in Brighton, because she didn’t know all the details. She spoke in general terms about how courts have supported freedom of speech.

[']If we allowed police to ticket individuals for swearing, our jails and courts will be filled with people with filthy mouths,['] she said.

Andersen, 19, was hanging out with friends on April 11 in a parking lot next to the downtown pavilion and Imagination Station play area when he became upset that a friend, who had been ticketed for skateboarding, was told by police to leave. He said he swore under his breath, saying [']This is f------ bulls---.[']

He said no children were around or heard him swear.

A Brighton police officer ticketed him for disorderly conduct. The officer wrote on the ticket that Andersen was discussing his dislike for his friend getting a ticket for skateboarding, using vulgar language in a city parking lot near the Imagination Station where kids are and using the [']f bomb.[']

Andersen challenged the ticket in court and lost; he was fined $200.

Brighton resident Laura Hurn said she encouraged Andersen to fight the ticket. Her son, Cody, is a friend of Andersen and was present on the day he was ticketed for disorderly conduct.

[']They can’t really do that,['] Hurn said, adding Andersen has his First Amendment rights.

She said several friends testified that no children were around when Andersen swore.

Hurn said the officer should have given Andersen a warning and told him to watch his language. She said Andersen is a [']respectful kid.[']

Still, Hurn said the law does protect profanity in public places. If the police were to ticket everyone who swore, she said, police would be quite busy.

[']They could really give out tickets like crazy,['] he said.

However, others believe police have a right to ticket people who use profanity or act inappropriately near the Imagination Station, which is popular with families and young children.

Brighton resident Renee Pettengill, who spends a lot of time at the playground with her two children, said she has heard teenagers swearing and seen them vandalizing the pavilion or putting out their cigarettes on the [']no smoking['] sign. She’s also told one teenager not to swear.

However, Pettengill said that it’s only a few teenagers who cause problems.

[']Most of the kids that are down there are amazing,['] Pettengill said.

Brighton Mayor Jim Muzzin declined to comment on the issue.

Brighton Mayor Pro Tem Shawn Pipoly said he supported the police actions.

[']The Brighton Police Department does an excellent job protecting the citizens and visitors of our city,['] Pipoly said. [']As a councilman and mayor pro tem, I stand behind and fully support them.[']

Pipoly said his father wouldn’t have much sympathy if he had done something similar as a young man.

[']If I was the young man in this situation, my father would have told me to grow up and take it like a man,[']Pipoly said. [']And then he would have spanked me thoroughly.[']"