Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bumper Stickers Don't Adhere to Free Speech?

According to the New York Times, The Supreme Court today let stand the decision of an appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two plaintiffs who claimed their 1st Amendment rights were denied in 2005.  The duo was evicted from a public speech President Bush gave on the subject of Social Security at a Denver art museum because they drove to the speech in a car adorned with a bumper sticker that read "No More Blood for Oil."  The pair did not make any attempt to disrupt the president's speech or to protest his talk.

The court did not give a reason for its refusal to hear the case, but two justices (Ginsburg and Sotomayor) dissented saying that "no reasonable person" could see a bumper sticker as a reason for ejection to a public event.   The lower court's decision was settled 2-1 by a three member panel.  The dissenting judge, William Holloway said, “It is simply astounding that any member of the executive branch could have believed that our Constitution justified this egregious violation of plaintiffs’ rights.”  Clearly his colleagues disagreed.

How do you view the ejection of these two people?   Were they denied their right to free speech?  Or do you agree with the Appeals court in upholding the ejection, perhaps on the grounds that the president was fighting two wars at the time, and that some people clearly found the language of the bumper sticker offensive?   Where should this line be drawn?  Who should decide? 

12 comments:

Andrew M. said...

In my mind there is very little question that these two attendees were treated unfairly. A bumper sticker such as that one is an expression of their opinion, and a mild one at that. To kick them out of a public speech because of it is an extreme violation of our right to free speech. The reason America's right to free speech is so amazing is that anyone has the right to say anything, about anything. No matter how inflammatory, insulting or hateful the thought might be. The idea of drawing lines is blatantly ignoring the First Amendment, and I don't like the idea of an America where that would be allowed.

Anna M. said...

I agree with Andrew. I believe that the two men were directly within their rights of free speech with their bumper sticker. The event was public and their actions were not at all threatening. I believe that as Americans it is not only our option but our responsibility to question and challenge the government's proposals. By expressing their views in a harmless way the two men were exercising this responsibility. Ejecting them clearly goes against their right to free speech.

Doc OC said...

Just to complicate things, can you imagine a bumper sticker that WOULD have justified the expulsion of the two plaintiffs. What about "I hate President Bush" or "End the War By Any Means Necessary"? Would you exempt that speech, too?

Alex S said...

The only way that I could imagine that would justify that the two plaintiffs be kicked out, is if they seemed a threat towards the president or the safety of others. Maybe if they had multiple "paraphernalia" (for lack of a better word), that said "I hate George Bush" and then were acting in a manner that seemed threatening or violent. Otherwise I think that under the constitution, a person can have a bumper sticker saying whatever they wish on it.

HenryD said...

While the American citizens have the right to free speech, there should be a line that is not crossed. For the sake of political correctness, no threats, vulgarity, or profane pictures should be used on a bumper sticker, sign, or t-shirt. Sure you are ALLOWED to say whatever you want, but other people might mistake a bumper sticker like "I hate George Bush" to mean something very different. In the case of the "oil" bumper sticker, I believe that it is not harmful. Think about it this way: would you want your five year-old daughter to be repeating the words of a bumper sticker or wearing a shirt with something profane on it? Whatever happened to using nice words to discuss issues?

Dani C. said...

Henry,
I disagree with your statement that the line should not be crossed. If the government wants to have this line, then they should not be advertising how free of a nation we our, with our right to speak freely. Yes, if you have an extremely profane bumper sticker, the community may frown upon it, but I don't think anyone can stop you from leaving it up.

We have this 'freedom' to express ourselves in this country, which already is somewhat oppressed. Whatever you say, you must know that there could be consequences in your reputation or relations with those around you, so for some this does squelch what they say. But you still can choose how you censor yourself, accepting that you may be viewed differently. However, this is not to say the government or officials can step in, and punish. It goes against our constitutional rights and we should be able to speak and publicize however we choose.

Andrew M. said...

Doc OC,
I happen to agree with Dani, that no amount of vulgarity or hate should affect whether or not these two were ejected from the speech. There are obvious exceptions, but these also happen to be included in the constitution, a bumper sticker that said "I have a bomb," or "I am going to kill the President at this speech," would probably be grounds to at least search the attendees. But I can't really imagine someone having a sticker like that.

HenryD said...

Perhaps my first comment wasn't clear.I did not say that if anyone has such a sticker they should be ejected from a speech. I only meant that people should be considerate of others. There is no governmental rule, nor should there be for the language used on a bumper sticker. Can messages be sent without the use of profanity or threats? They sure as HECK can.

trevork said...

To adress Mr. O'Connor's comment, I do not think there is any bumper sticker comment that should kick people out of a public speech.

This reminds me of how during the '08 elections a shopowner in Virginia had a derogatory, or rascist comment about Obama. This did not prevent him to vote,or close down his store. In that case, people chose to just not go to his store. Society has the oppurtunity to just ignore people who say disagreeable things, but the law does not.

ReedKO said...

I think that there is very little debate here about the fact that these two people had their rights violated. I could understand if they were being interruptive and shouting "no more blood for oil" but the fact that they weren't being disruptive further proves how unjustly they were treated.

This brings up another topic in my mind, though, and that is censorship at school. One of my friends freshman year got suspended for wearing a shirt that had the word "shit" on it. He wasn't disrupting anyone, just like the people in Mr. O'Connor's example. He was only walking through the hall when a parapro saw the shirt and took him to the adviser chair. Sure, maybe it wasn't the best choice to wear that shirt to school, but I still think that punishment does not fit the "crime".

Will P said...

I think it is clear that these people's rights were violated, however, I believe that in certain situations people should monitor what they say. For example, if one has a t-shirt that says "shit," maybe it is not the best idea to wear it to school. Just because a person can say something, doesn't mean they should.

Remy said...

It looks like we all agree on this first amendment bumper sticker issue- freedom of speech. So, those guys drove to a Republican rally with a more liberal bumper sticker...
what about showing up to a rally carrying an assault rifle? Apparently, anti-health care protesters in Phoenix, Arizona showed up with guns outside an event where President Obama was speaking("armed Men Seen Outside Obama Event," Telegraph/UK, August 18, 2009). Neither the secret service nor the police did arrest or even ask them to leave.
These 2nd amendment types seem much more scary to me than guys with leftwing T-shirts and bumper stickers. Does anyone think there is a danger in mixing assault rifles and political rallies in this day and age?