This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published January 12, 2011 on The Daily Caller website.
Thanks to the ACLU of Pennsylvania, motorists in that state will be free to swear at and give the finger to police officers and other motorists, thus lowering public decency another notch. Meanwhile, the officers themselves will be forced to undergo “training” on the “right” to flip people off.
In order to settle an ACLU lawsuit, the Pennsylvania State Police have agreed not to cite anyone for disorderly conduct over the use of profanity or obscene gestures.
The outcome will alleviate the apparently ongoing shortage of rude public behavior in the Keystone State.
The ACLU had sued last May on behalf of a woman who was cited after yelling a profanity at a motorcyclist who, she said, had swerved close to her. She reported the incident to a state policeman, who mailed the motorcyclist a citation but also mailed her a disorderly conduct citation for using the “a” word. While this seems like something only an extremely by-the-book cop might do, the ACLU used it to trash the police’s ability to keep things civil.
“Using profanity toward someone, whether an officer or not, is just not one of those things that you can put someone in jail for,” said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It may not be very smart, but you have a constitutional right to do that.”
No, it’s not smart. The Bible offers this good advice: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
The idea that abusive speech or gestures would have constitutional protection would have been news to the founding father of the nation. George Washington, as a very young man, wrote this in his book Rules of Civility at a time when people were put in public stocks for such behavior:
“Use no reproachful language against anyone, neither curse nor revile.”
That was rule No. 49. The very first rule was: “Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.”
Good luck to Pennsylvania troopers. The ACLU reports on its website that as part of the settlement in Scarpa v. Pawlowski, et al., the state police have agreed to:
Notify its troopers that they cannot issue citations solely for the use of profane or offensive words or gestures, even if they are directed at law enforcement personnel;
Provide additional training to all troopers and cadets on the First Amendment right of individuals to express themselves using profane language or gestures;
Develop a mandatory training update for new and continuing state law enforcement officers about this policy; and
Revise existing training materials on the disorderly conduct statute to clarify that the term “obscene” in the statute does not refer to profanity, indecent speech or gestures.
The state cops also had to pay $17,500 in damages and legal fees.
As William Bendix, who played the protagonist of the ’50s sitcom The Life of Riley, used to opine, “What a revoltin’ development.”