NJ.com (Rebecca Panico) reports (and includes the photo above):
Roselle Park Municipal Court Judge Gary Bundy ordered the owner of Willow Avenue to remove the profanity signs within a week or face a fine of $ 250 per day….
“This is not a case about politics. It is a case, pure and simple, about language,” Bundy said. “This ordinance does not restrict political speech. Neither this city nor its laws can restrict or eliminate Ms. Dilascio’s freedom of expression. However, freedom of expression is not simply an absolute right. State laws and statutes are It makes it clear that we can’t just “raise the First Amendment umbrella and say anything and everything is protected speech.” …
The ordinance prohibits showing “any obscene material, communication or performance or other article or article that is obscene within the municipality.” Defines obscenity as material that depicts or describes sexual conduct or lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
But the fact that Cohen was wearing his “Fuck the Draft” jacket was a protected speech, and it’s hard for me to see how the signs here are anything but. To quote Judge Harlan’s opinion in Cohen,
In the first place, the principle that the state defends seems inherently limitless. How to distinguish this from any other offensive word? Surely the state has no right to clean up the public debate to the point where it is grammatically acceptable to the most squeamish among us. However, there is no easily verifiable general principle to stop before that result if we were to affirm the judgment below. For while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more obnoxious than most others of its genre, it is often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s handwriting. In fact, we believe it is largely because government officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the constitution leaves matters of taste and style largely to the individual.
Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact, because it is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much of linguistic expression fulfills a dual communicative function: it conveys not only ideas capable of independent and relatively precise explanation, but also inexpressible emotions. . In fact, words are often chosen for both their emotional and cognitive strength. We cannot endorse the view that the Constitution, while caring for the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no respect for that emotional function which, in practice, may often be the most important element of the overall message it is intended to convey. In fact, as Judge Frankfurter has said, “[o]One of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize men and public actions, and that means not only informed and responsible criticism, but the freedom to speak foolishly and without restraint. “
Lastly, along the same lines, we cannot afford the easy assumption that certain words can be banned without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process. Indeed, governments may soon take advantage of the censorship of certain words as a convenient way to prohibit the expression of unpopular opinions. As noted above, we have been able to discern little social benefit that could result from risking opening the door to such dire results.
In summary, our judgment is that, in the absence of a more particularized and compelling News Block for its actions, the State cannot, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the mere public display involved here of this unique four-way expletive lyrics be a criminal. offense.
On top of that, if the news is correct that the defendant was being prosecuted solely under the “obscenity” ordinance, that ordinance simply does not apply here: define “obscene” using the normal legal definition, rather than the secular definition. that often covers vulgar words. By this definition, speech must be primarily pornographic, appeal to “lewd interest” in sex, and depict or describe sexual behavior; the word “fuck” here does not qualify; quote Cohen again,
Whatever else may be necessary to give rise to a broader power of states to prohibit obscene expression, such expression must be, in some meaningful way, erotic. It cannot plausibly be argued that this vulgar allusion to the Selective Service System [or, in this case, to President Biden -EV] it would evoke such psychic stimulation in anyone who could stand up to Cohen’s crudely disfigured jacket.