The Right to Give the Finger

Does the right to free speech include the right to make an obscene gesture at a state trooper? I guess we’ll find out once Mark May’s lawsuit goes to court. Here is the story from WHAS News.

An Indiana man is contending in a federal lawsuit that his right to free speech was violated after he was ticketed for showing a state trooper his middle finger.

The Tribune Star of Terre Haute reports that Mark May is seeking unspecified damages against Indiana State Police Master Trooper Matt Ames.

In the suit, May says Ames cut him off in traffic in pursuit of another driver in August. While Ames was conducting the traffic stop, May admitted to making the vulgar gesture while he drove past the officer.

May says Ames then pursued May and issued him a ticket for provocation, deemed a Class C infraction in Indiana. The charge comes with a fine of up to $500.

May challenged the decision in Terre Haute City Court but was found guilty. He asked for it to be reviewed in Vigo County Superior Court, which deemed the judgment to be void.

The suit was filed by Kenneth Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, who says May’s actions were protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“Mr. May’s gesture, which in no way interfered with the Master Trooper’s lawful activities, was fully protected by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit reads. “The stop represents an unconstitutional seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Indiana State Police have not commented on the lawsuit.

Now, I am an absolutist on the subject of free speech. I do not believe there should be any restrictions on what you can say, other than the obvious exceptions of inciting violence or criminal act or defamation. This means that I think that Mark May had a right to make any gesture he wanted and I hope that he wins his case.

I feel I should add, however that just because you have a right to do something, it does not follow that you ought to do it. Mr. May has a perfect right to make whatever gesture or say whatever he wants. That doesn’t mean he ought to. It would seem inadvisable to offend someone who has the power to arrest you. It’s rude anyway to show such disrespect, particularly to a person whose job is to keep you safe, and never makes never makes a situation better.

I have to confess I have been guilty of flipping the bird in the past, even to police officers who have given me a ticket. I am making a resolution not to do that again. The court may decide I have the right to show the fighter to anyone, even a cop, better I ought not to.

Maybe we would all be better off if we thought less of what we have a right to do and more on what we ought to do.

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One Response to “The Right to Give the Finger”

  1. National Labor Relations Board Rules Damore Firing Legal | David's Commonplace Book Says:

    […] incorrect memo about the role of biology concerning the gender gap in tech positions belongs in the category of things they had a right to do, but ought not to have done. As a general rule, I believe that companies ought to have a right to hire and fire whoever they […]

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