BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The First Amendment covers a slew of protections promised to each American citizen. This includes freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
How far do these protections go? Higher courts often interpret whether cases fall under the protections of the First Amendment.
Freedom of speech, including vulgarity, is common in such cases.
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 you flip off a cop, though? Can you get in trouble for that?
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 turned into a moving violation.
The case went to the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed that Cruise-Gulyas’ rights were violated during the second stop.
According to case information from the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were cited as protecting her hand gesture.
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.”
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. Idaho’s includes:
- Maliciously or willfully disturbing the peace of any neighborhood or family space by being loud or committing offensive conduct.
- Maliciously or willfully disturbing a funeral, memorial service, procession or burial ceremony.
- Threatening, quarreling or challenging to fight someone, or fighting.
- Firing a gun.
- Using vulgar, profane or indecent language in a loud or boisterous manner in the presence of children.
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.