Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Obscenity, Free Speech, or Both?

According to an Associated Press story a man in Pennsylvania was ticketed in April 2005 for making an obscene hand gesture at a construction worker after becoming frustrated in a traffic jam. The charges against the man were dropped but he has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming he was maliciously prosecuted. He claims obscene gestures should be considered protected free speech under the Constitution's first amendment.

It's an interesting question. One our forefathers considered a long time ago.

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people," said John Quincy Adams (pictured at right), "It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Our form of government (specifically the amount of freedom we enjoy) assumes a civil population. When the people cease to exhibit proper behavior toward one another you end up with the state stepping in and encroaching on the liberties we hold dear. The truth of the matter is this: if you don't control yourself it will become necessary for someone else to do it. Unfortunately American culture is taking us quickly in this direction. We haven't yet digressed to the point of needing government intervention in these kinds of matters, but a news story like this one should serve as a stern warning for us all.

Personally I think demonstrating oneself to be morally deficient by making obscene gestures should be protected free speech. It may be unpleasant having to deal with the occasional obscene gesture or unkind word, but liberties turned over to the state are rarely recovered. When questions like this arise I almost always lean toward erring on the side of liberty.

I just hope our cultural conduct doesn't deteriorate to the point where I change my mind.

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