Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


One man's vulgarity is another's lyric

DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania (AP) — A man who wrote a vulgar message on the memo line of a check he used to pay a $5 parking ticket has apologized in writing, leading police to drop a disorderly conduct charge against him.
David Binner sent the check after receiving a $5 parking ticket. He calls it “a temporary lapse of judgment.”
Clerks were offended by the message, and the disorderly conduct charge was filed because the comment was obscene, police Chief James Donnelly said.
“He was contrite enough to offer an apology, and I think that satisfies the people who were insulted by it,” he said.

Associated Press, via CNN [link to no longer works]
So what vulgarity was so “obscene” the police had to step in?

“The F-word isn’t what it used to be,” attorney [for the check-writer] Keith Williams said. It doesn’t have a sexual connotation anymore and so can’t be considered obscene, he said.

I guess that about says it. Meanwhile, the local police Chief explains that clerks were “insulted” when they saw this naughty, naughty expression while they were being paid from the public purse.
As an idealistic youth, I read Cohen v. California. So should the Chief:

The ability of government, consonant with the Constitution, to shut off discourse solely to protect others from hearing it is, in other words, dependent upon a showing that substantial privacy interests are being invaded in an essentially intolerable manner. Any broader view of this authority would effectively empower a majority to silence dissidents simply as a matter of personal predilections.

Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) [link to no longer works]