Civil Liberties

Do Not Insult, Accost, Molest, or Otherwise Annoy the Politicians


The city of Brighton, Michigan, has adopted an ordinance (PDF) that makes it illegal "to insult, accost, molest or otherwise annoy, either by word of mouth, sign, or motion, any person in any public place." It also forbids people "to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person and that serve no legitimate purpose." Either offense is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100.

After a flurry of press reports suggesting that such a vague, broadly worded ordinance might impinge on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the city posted this boldface notice on its website:

Contrary to recent Published News Media Reports & Headlines, the City of Brighton City Council did Not adopt an  "annoyance"  ordinance. Instead, the City of Brighton City Council on 12/18/08 adopted a Series of City Ordinance Amendments for Prevention of Harassment of Citizens and new related protections for citizens from harassment ; and for the prevention/discouragement of harassing type of activity which interferes with the conduct of public meetings and or interferes with the ability of public officials to carry out public/taxpayer-funded public services. 

Got that? It's an ordinance that prohibits annoying people, but it's not an "annoyance" ordinance. According to A.P., "A city attorney says there could be situations where the measure would violate freedom of speech, but that those cases will be reviewed by the city." The Livingston Daily Press & Argus reports further reassurances:

City Manager Dana Foster said enforcement would be a subjective call made by police officers, with Wightman adding he believed the ordinance would pertain more so to verbal interactions and actions rather than, for example, a person wearing a T-shirt that upsets people.

Foster said the rules, which take effect Jan. 2, are aimed at those who interfere in public areas, as opposed to residents who are simply annoying for the sake of annoyance.

So being annoying for its own sake will be allowed, but annoyance with a political aim will be prohibited? Apparently the city plans to review cases where the measure might violate freedom of speech to make sure that it does.

[Thanks to Soda for the tip.]