A New Jersey homeowner is no longer facing obscenity charges for refusing to take down signs from her property that said "Fuck Biden."
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced today that a state superior court has dismissed obscenity charges against Patricia Dilascio, a resident of Roselle Park, New Jersey, at the request of the town. As Reason reported last week, a Roselle Park municipal court judge had ordered Dilascio to take down three flags from her property that said "fuck Biden," finding that they violated the town's obscenity ordinance. She faced fines of $250 a day for not complying.
The ordinance defines obscenity as anything that "appeals to the prurient interest; depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct as hereinafter specifically defined, or depicts or exhibits offensive nakedness as hereinafter specifically defined; and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
The judge's order was roundly condemned by free speech advocates, who pointed to the Supreme Court's landmark 1971 ruling in Cohen v. California. In that case, the Court upheld a man's right to wear a jacket that said "fuck the draft" into a courthouse, making it clear that the First Amendment protects political expression even when it's profane or offensive.
For example, police in Liberty, New York, arrested Willian Barboza in 2012 and charged him with 2nd-degree aggravated harassment for scrawling "fuck your shitty town bitches" on a speeding ticket. A judge later dismissed the charges, finding that Barboza was exercising his protected First Amendment rights.
Dilascio, represented by the ACLU of New Jersey, appealed the order to take down her anti-Biden flags, and the politically charged small-town kerfuffle in Roselle Park ended up being covered in The New York Times. The reaction was apparently enough that the town filed an application with a state superior court to voluntarily dismiss the charges, which the court granted.
"The continued attention garnered by the inappropriate display and the escalating costs to the taxpayers of continuing to litigate the matter causes far greater harm to the Borough, as a whole, than good," the town said in a statement.
The ACLU of New Jersey applauded the town's decision to drop the fight.
"The First Amendment exists specifically to make sure people can express strong opinions on political issues—or any other matter—without fear of punishment by the government," ACLU-NJ executive director Amol Sinha said in a press release. "Today's decision confirms that our position was correct: Roselle Park had no grounds to issue fines for a political sign and the town's use of its obscenity ordinance infringed upon fundamental rights protected by the First Amendment. It was an uncomplicated case."