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Are Bumper Stickers A First Amendment Right?

Aug 17, 2007
If you get out and drive around town at all you have surely seen all kinds of different bumper stickers ranging from just a timid "Virginia is for Lovers" to "I hate Bush" and many variations between. We see parents displaying stickers stating they are proud of their child like the "my child is an honor student" ones, and conversely the negative parody, "my kid beat up your honor student". What you may not know is that many states have statutes prohibiting certain kinds of statements or illustrations. Is this a violation of our rights under the First Amendment? Let's take a look at what is being said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that "the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable and the fact that protected speech may be offensive to some does not justify its suppression."

Regardless, there have still been many situations where individuals have been cited for the language or illustrations displayed on their vehicles. One woman in Florida who had the famous four letter word for intercourse stated three times on a sticker was cited but the charges were dropped because the word was not being used in a sexual context.

A man in Georgia displaying the infamous "_ _it happens" statement was fined $100 by a local jurisdiction, he took the case to the Georgia Supreme Court citing that the law was unconstitutional and they sided with him saying, "the peace of society is not endangered by the profane or lewd word which is not directed at a particular audience." This seems to state that as long as you aren't directing your remark to a specific group of people that it is okay, at least in Georgia.

Despite the victories by these mentioned above and many others there are a lot of states that have laws similar to the one below:

According to the law in Tennessee, "the display of obscene and patently offensive movies, bumper stickers, window signs, or other markings on or in a motor vehicle which is visible to other drivers is prohibited and display of such materials shall subject the owner of the vehicle on which they are displayed, upon conviction, to a fine of not less than $2.00, nor more than $50.00." The state defines obscene like this:

"(A) The average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
(B) The average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct; and
(C) The work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value
(11) "Patently offensive" means that which goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in describing or representing such matters.

I have to agree with what the Georgia court concluded their ruling in the case mentioned above, a statement from Benjamin Franklin, "Everything one has a right to do is not best to be done." So, in plain English, just because we have a right to do it doesn't mean we should. Use some common sense in what you display on your car.
About the Author
Gregg Hall is an author living in Navarre Florida. Find more about bumper stickers and get Funny Bumper Stickers at http://www.bumperstickersplus.com
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