Willian Barboza was 22 when he drove through the small New York town of Liberty three years ago. He was caught speeding and got a ticket. The story should’ve ended there, but the Connecticut man became embroiled in a free speech debate for cursing at officials.
Now, a federal court has ruled that Willian’s cursing — an angrily-scrawled “f–k your sh—y town b—-es” — is constitutionally protected, The New York Times reported.
The fracas began when Barboza decided to protest his speeding ticket after he got home. Before returning the payment form with his fine, he pleaded guilty, crossed out the town’s name, Liberty, and wrote “Tyranny” in its place. He topped it off with a profane phrase across the top of the form, The Huffington Post added.
How cool is it that I can now yell F**k your s**tty town! in Liberty, NY and everyone will smile and nod @ each other?http://t.co/SXFawUDViC— Dennis Scanlan (@DScanlan126) September 16, 2015
Well, Liberty doesn’t appreciate cursing. The small town has arrested people before for using foul language — and not just on speeding tickets: people cursing on the street, in motel parking lots, and other offenders have been arrested and charged for using profanity under the state’s rather vague aggravated harassment law.
After the town court received Willian’s payment for his ticket, the judge felt the comment across the form was “threatening in nature” and illegal to boot. So they rejected the payment and called him back to court, where the judge schooled him about dirty language, and arrested him under that harassment law.
For a simple speeding ticket, the young man was booked, fingerprinted, and handcuffed to a bench. Let that be a lesson about cursing. Willian was in shock.
“The whole time that I was there, it felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I just wanted to ask if they had any sense of irony at all.”
So he got in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union; he felt his right to free speech had been violated. Swearing on a speeding ticket, however rude, is the same thing as criticizing your government, and American citizens are allowed to take such liberties, said NYCLU attorney, Mariko Hirose, who represented Barboza.
“New Yorkers should not be afraid to protest or complain about a speeding ticket — or any other government action — because they might be dragged to jail for using a few harmless words. The First Amendment protects people’s right to express their opinions about the government, and our government is better for it.”
A federal judge agreed that Willian’s rights had been violated when he was hauled into court, given a tongue-lashing, and sent to jail for his small act of defiance. Barboza admitted the cursing was “crude and offensive to some.” However, the words weren’t intended to threaten anyone, but to complain, he told The New York Daily News.
“I hope that by standing up for myself, other Americans will not be treated like criminals for complaining about their government with a few harmless words,” he said.
Do you agree that this man’s rights were violated? Or was the angry scrawl just plain rude?
[Photo Courtesy sergign / Shutterstock]