The other day, I was reading an article in the American Bar Journal about a man from Connecticut, William Barboza, who disagreed on the issuance of a speeding ticket he received while traveling through Liberty, New York, and decided to protest the ticket when making his payment to the city. He expressed his protest, when returning the payment form to the city, by crossing out the word “Liberty” and replacing it with “Tyranny” and then writing “F*** you Sh**** B******” across the top of the form when making his payment. Mr. Barboza was subsequently notified by a Justice of the Liberty court system that his payment had been rejected and he was ordered to appear in front of the Judge. Once in court, he was given a stern lecture about using obscene language and then arrested for aggravated harassment. He was handcuffed, detained and then released on $200 bail for his protest. Although the charges were later dismissed, Mr. Barboza, sued in federal court for alleged violations of his First Amendment right to free speech.
Following the trial, a Federal Court Judge found that “Though crude and offensive to some, (the statement) did not convey an imminent threat and was made in the context of ‘complaining about government’ activity which does not violate the law.”
What a great country we live in; one that allows its citizens the freedom to voice their displeasure at perceived injustices, even when they do it in a crude and offensive manner.
Now, I do not condone the use of obscene language when responding to tickets or other penalties assessed by our government. Let’s face it, payment forms are usually received and processed by clerks who are just trying to do their job. Cursing at a clerk in this situation is like yelling at a bank teller because your account balance is low. But exercising your right to tell the government you think they have done wrong or overstepped their authority…. That is our civic duty.
But we shouldn’t have to resort to obscene language to wage a protest. In fact, I think it does an injustice to our forefathers and our freedom. Whatever happened to protesting with eloquence? “Give me liberty or give me death.” -Patrick Henry; “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” -Thomas Jefferson; “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” -George Washington. Now those guys knew how to protest.
My thought on this story is simple. Raise your objection. Protest what you believe to be injustice. Our country was founded on our right to protest, many a patriot has shed blood to protect it, and we need to exercise it if we are to protect and keep those rights. Thomas Jefferson once said, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” I’m sure that had Mr. Barboza anticipated the time and money he would be spending on this he would have thought twice about issuing his obscene protest, but his protest, would be appreciated by Thomas Jefferson. In a country that allows such power to its people, I advise to exercise it, but do it with eloquence, not obscenity, and be prepared for the consequence.
For man to be free, people must fight for it from time to time. Or better said by a young Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
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–Clay Morgan, Esquire, Morgan and Barbary – serving Titusville, Melbourne, Palm Bay and other areas of Brevard County