from the if-not-superior,-at-least-an-improvement-over-the-last-court dept
Last week, a New Jersey municipal court judge sided with the town of Roselle Park, New Jersey, and its decision to fine a homeowner for “obscene” signs she had in her yard. The signs weren’t obscene in any legal sense of the word — not even under the ordinance the town claimed she had violated. When the homeowner refused to back down, the town started finding her $250/day.
The homeowner, Patricia Dilascio, tried to fight back, challenging the citation in municipal court. Unfortunately for her, the presiding judge misread the law and completely ignored the First Amendment to back the town government and its inexplicable decision to prosecute a handful of “Fuck Biden” signs. According to the town’s mayor, “there’s no place for profanity by a school and school children” — a statement that can only be made by someone who’s never overhead the things said by school kids when they think no adults are listening.
The judge, however, should have been able to read the law and follow a whole bunch of precedent from the nation’s top court — precedent that says the First Amendment firmly protects political speech, even when it includes the word “fuck.” In the view of this court, a balance needed to be struck between protecting free speech and sparing hypothetical parents from having to explain the f-word to their hypothetical children.
With everyone with any power being stupid about this, the ACLU stepped in to take the case. And that seems to have prompted immediate results.
The Superior Court, Law Division today vacated charges against a Roselle Park resident, represented by the ACLU-NJ, who was cited for violating the town’s obscenity ordinance after displaying signs that read “Fuck Biden” on her property.
The Superior Court, unfortunately, did not serve up an opinion strongly protecting free speech rights or excoriating the judge who had mishandled the original charges. But it did move fast once the town dismissed the ticket and agreed not to try to collect any fines.
This likely wouldn’t have happened without the ACLU stepping in to help even out the balance of power. When it was just a town beating up on a resident for political speech, the mayor, Joseph Signorello, could not have been more sure of his rightness, calling the judge’s blown call a “win for decency.” But with the case gaining national attention — and not a single person who knows anything about the First Amendment willing to side with him — the only way to slow the bleeding was to abandon ship before it became the foundation for a civil rights lawsuit the town was certain to lose.
But even after agreeing to drop the charges, the mayor seems compelled to have the last word. And it’s just as moronic as his opening salvo.
The mayor, Joseph Signorello III, called it a “moral loss” for the borough.
“Those signs are offensive, and were I a neighbor, I would be offended,” said Mr. Signorello, a Democrat.
“You cannot legislate decency,” he added, “and I think that’s a sad reality.”
Ohhhh… but you thought you could! I mean, that was the point of this misuse and apparently deliberate misreading of the town’s obscenity statute. And somehow your town was blessed with the assistance of a judge just as concerned about children and just as dismissive of civil liberties as you are! Sure, it’s too bad you’re both wrong, but you guys had a thing going for a bit. Try to enjoy your memories of the calm before the shitstorm, when everything was full of promise and possibilities.
Nice, isn’t it?
Well… knock it off. Those days are over. Stop living in the past. Welcome back to America, where criticism of government officials is pretty much the poster boy for the First Amendment. There are better things to do with your town’s time and money than waste it on protecting hypothetical children from the nonexistent threat of posted profanities.