Houston-Area Driver Presses the Boundaries of the Free Speech Issue
So is this a free speech issue, or more a case of somebody being nasty for nastiness’ sake?
A Houston-area sheriff is grappling with the issue, as it pertains to an area driver, and his choice of window decal for his pickup truck.
Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls approached the issue on his Facebook page, after asking a local prosecutor about bringing disorderly conduct charges against the driver of the truck.
Well, it’s a vulgar shot at President Trump and his supporters.
Specifically, the decal in the back window is spells out in large, white lettering: “F**k Trump,” and in smaller letters, “And f**k you for voting for him.”
Sheriff Nehls posted to his Facebook page:
The post read: “I have received numerous calls regarding the offensive display on this truck as it is often seen along FM 359. If you know who owns this truck or it is yours, I would like to discuss it with you. Our Prosecutor has informed us she would accept Disorderly Conduct charges regarding it, but I feel we could come to an agreement regarding a modification to it.”
Most people that would go to those lengths to deliver that message, in the first place, probably wouldn’t be open to changing anything.
But at a news conference later Wednesday, Nehls seemed to back down from that idea, saying he supports freedom of speech and acknowledging a 1971 Supreme Court case that overturned the conviction of a man for disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket with an expletive as part of an effort to protest the military draft and the Vietnam War.
Law enforcement do know who the driver is, but they’ve made no moved against him, as yet.
“We have not threatened anybody with arrest. We have not written any citations,” Nehls said. “But I think now it would be a good time to have meaningful dialogue with that person and express the concerns out there regarding the language on the truck.”
Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that conversation goes down.
The sheriff, rightly, is concerned that the open road might not be the right venue for this kind of message, and that some offended Trump fan could see it and take extreme offense.
“I don’t want to see anything happen to anyone,” Nehls said. “With people’s … mindset today, that’s the last thing we need, a breach of the peace.”
I get his concern. We are in a really bad place, as far as our political climate and the ability of our citizens to just talk out our differences.
But is there anything he can do, legally?
According to legal experts, no.
“It would be dangerous to our freedoms if you start going that route where a sheriff has the right to start censoring people about what might be offensive,” said Philip Hilder, a Houston criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.
“Is (the sign on the truck) tasteful? No. Is it dignified? No, but it’s still a person’s statement that is constitutionally protected,” Hilder said.
It is, unfortunately, a case that probably won’t be settled until somebody does something crazy.