A Florida man was handcuffed and taken downtown over a naughty word on the back of his pickup truck, raising questions about the limits of free speech, The Lake City Reporter details.
Dillon Shane Webb, 23, was driving his truck on Sunday afternoon when a deputy noticed a sticker on the rear window of his truck. The sticker contained what the officer deemed an obscenity: “I Eat A**.”
The officer claimed that the sticker violates a Florida law that prohibits the distribution of obscene material. The officer, Dillon, and a passenger had a conversation about the appropriateness of the sticker, and Dillon held his ground, saying, “It’s just words.”
The deputy, however, didn’t see things that way, asking what a parent would say if one of their children saw it. He or she ordered Dillon to remove one of the letters from the sticker. He did not, and cited the First Amendment.
Unfortunately for Dillon, the deputy wasn’t having Dillon’s defense. The police officer placed Dillon under arrest and took him to a detention facility. Dillon was later released and given a notice to appear in court. He’s been charged with possession of obscene material, a first-degree misdemeanor, and resisting arrest without violence — also a first-degree misdemeanor.
What Does The Constitution Say About This Sort Of Thing?
The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment’s protections of free speech don’t extend to obscenity. The problem is that the definition of “obscenity” is subjective, and depends largely on the audience.
Regardless, says the Freedom Forum Institute, several states have passed laws attempting to restrict bad language on bumper stickers — to varying degrees of success. What’s more, enforcement is rare, and as often as drivers are charged for such offenses, they usually win in court.
For example, in 1999, a Florida woman was cited for her sticker, “F**k you, you f**king f**k.” The charges were later dropped. And in a Georgia case, a man charged for having a bumper sticker that read “S**t Happens” was fined $100. He fought his case all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, and won.
And in a more recent case, a Texas woman caught the attention of Sheriff Troy Nels for having the words “F**k Trump and f**k you for voting for him” on the back window of her truck, as Houston’s KHOU-TV reports. Nels ordered her to take it down; she responded by adding the words “F**k Troy Nels” to the window.