KENNEWICK — The First Amendment covers a slew of protections promised to each American citizen. This includes freedom of assembly, freedom of press and freedom of speech.
How far do these protections go? Higher courts are often interpreting whether cases fall under the protections of the First Amendment.
Freedom of speech is a common aspect of such cases. Like is vulgarity protected?
It’s been established in U.S. courts that giving the middle finger is a protected activity under the First Amendment. In general, the only communication not protected under freedom of speech is “fighting words,” like threats.
What if I flip off a cop? Can I get in trouble for that?
First Amendment includes middle finger
While other cases had discussed the protection of vulgarity, like giving the middle finger, the 2019 case of Debra Lee Cruise-Gulyas v. Matthew Wayne Minard discussed specifically flipping off a cop.
Cruise-Gulyas had flipped off Minard, a police officer, after being pulled over for speeding and given a ticket for a minor offense. She was subsequently pulled over again, and the ticket was made into a moving violation.
The case made its way to the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed Cruise-Gulyas’ rights were violated during the second stop.
The First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were cited as protecting her hand gesture, according to case information from the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression.
You should not be arrested or pulled over just for giving the middle finger, even if it’s in public or toward a police officer.
“Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule,” wrote Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton in the Court of Appeals opinion. “But that doesn’t make them illegal or for that matter punishable or for that matter grounds for a seizure.”
What is WA disorderly conduct law?
However, cops interpret disorderly conduct on a case-by-case basis. It’s possible an officer may believe they have grounds for a disorderly conduct arrest. In that case, you should consult a civil rights lawyer.
Disorderly conduct laws are generally hard to interpret. Washington state’s includes:
- Using abusive language to intentionally creating a risk of assault
- Intentionally disrupting any lawful assembly or meeting without lawful authority
- Intentionally obstruct traffic without lawful authority
- Engaging in fighting, tumultuous conduct or unreasonable noise within 500 feet of a funeral, burial, viewing, funeral procession or memorial service, knowing it would adversely affect the event
The lone act of flipping someone off should not be considered grounds for disorderly conduct, but paired with other actions, an officer may interpret your actions as breaking the law.