Middle Finger = Free Speech

This is for you, Officer Elledge!

This is for you, Officer Elledge!

A federal judge in the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that a man did not commit the crime of disorderly conduct when he flipped off another motorist and a Pittsburgh police officer, who obviously doesn’t have enough to do.

U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone ruled David Hackbart exercised his constitution right to free speech in 2006 when he angrily displayed his middle finger to another driver during a parking dispute in Squirrel Hill and when he displayed the same gesture to Officer Brian Elledge, who told Hackbart to stop.

“The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that non-verbal gestures and symbols may be entitled to First Amendment protection,” Cercone wrote in his 19-page opinion and order filed Monday. “Moreover, several courts, including federal and state courts in Pennsylvania, have found that the expressive use of the middle finger is protected speech under the First Amendment.” (source)

Apparently, this is the third such case in recent years in Pennsylvania.

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14 Responses to Middle Finger = Free Speech

  1. Acro says:

    Question: there are other types of similar gestures in other cultures, including the grabbing of one’s genitals (over the garments) to display anger or displeasure. Would these be covered under the First Amendment as well?

  2. Clint says:

    I think Officer Brian Elledge would be better suited to police in China or Saudi Arabia.

  3. Check out Ira P. Robbins’ (American University, Washington College of Law) Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law [SSRN] for an examination of the long arm of the law going way too far. Here’s the abstract:

    The middle finger is one of the most commonly used insulting gestures in the United States. The finger, which is used to convey a wide range of emotions, is visible on streets and highways, in schools, shopping malls, and sporting events, in courts and execution chambers, in advertisements and on magazine covers, and even on the hallowed floor of the United States Senate. Despite its ubiquity, however, as a number of recent cases demonstrate, those who use the middle finger in public run the risk of being stopped, arrested, prosecuted, fined, and even incarcerated under disorderly conduct or breach of peace statutes and ordinances.

    • mineeye says:

      Correct! In 1970 New Paltz at a well-known bar called P&G’s the local police raided the bar looking for minors, of which I was one, but escaped due to the chaos. The chaos caused was by the drummer overtly displaying his stubby middle finger at the police! This caused quite the UNQUIET RIOT in the little mountain haven and made the local papers as well. To date, producing the middle digit has been the result of fatal road rage incidents if not nearly fatal results. My word on this? Put your fist in your mouth when the nasty urge arises!

  4. DAVE DUNKLE says:

    PLEASE GET COPY OF TRIAL TRANSCRIPT PERFERABLE IN A PDF FILE AND PUT IT ON THE WEB TO COPY. PLEASE SEND ME A COPY VIA EMAIL OR JUST SEND ME A LINK WHERE IT CAN BE ATTAINED.

  5. David Hackbart says:

    Some of you guys were right on and I am the Hackbart who started all this in Pittsburgh. I’ve heard criticism and praise and I expected that, but what it really comes down to is the law and the Constitution and the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. And it’s not that I got a ticket and filed a lawsuit. I was living in FL and home visiting when this happened. So I flew back to FL and decided to fight it….miss work, buy a plane ticket, etc. So I flew up here to fight a ticket that was only going to cost $100 bucks or so, but as a matter of principle I fought it and guess what? Lost. So back to FL I went guilty of a crime I didn’t commit. So back up I came for my appeal and thank God I had legal representation that time. So I had to go through all that just to be found not guilty of something that an arrogant cop decided to initiate outside of the law. And beside that, a cop should never scream and belittle someone. He was as unprofessional an officer as I have ever seen AND he is a sergeant. He should have known better, but I hurt his feelings I guess and since I did, he felt the right to violate my rights. So look at the bigger picture those of you who feel officers should be able to issue tickets for being disrespected. And YES, he should have realized that I didn’t break the law and had he been thicker skinned or trained better none of this would have escalated to where it did.

    • Steph says:

      David, I live in Pittsburgh and the same thing (almost) happened to me today. I had a pick up truck swerve into my lane and hit me head on. When the police came, one of the officers, tried to get me to stop speaking to the other driver, because after being calm initially,I began to get a little upset. I used a choice phrase towards the cop and he went bonkers on me. I’m a 115 lb female. He was huge. He cuffed me and arrested me for “disorderly conduct”. I kept repeating that it wasn’t against the law to say that to him and told him I was just in an accident for Christs sake, i’m a little vemotional. I was…. I am in complete disbelief that this has happened. I got a citation and have to plead guilty or non guilty. Your case was the first I thought of and wondered if there was any advice you could lend as to how to handle this when I choose to fight it in court.
      Many thanks in advance.
      Steph Sciullo
      Srsciullo@ hotmail.com

    • Mike says:

      WOW. I really just came across this and find it disturbing. First amendment free speech was never intended to cover this type of thing. Let me ask you a question. If you would have gotten the crap knocked out of you by the first guy you flipped off, would you be okay with nothing happening to that person under an affirmative defense that you broke the peace to the point that a physical altercation was warranted? If you are all fine and good with that, then I can say that I am good with you being able to flip the officer off without consequence.

      So, all that being said, it’s completely okay with you for me to go up to your wife and say something like “Hey whore, you are such a F-ing piece of $hit for dating (marrying) such a piece of $hit.” And that should be fine… no problems, remember there is the first amendment of our constitution. I should be all good right?

      I would like you to come on down to Georgia and try flipping off someone. I think that you may be shown some southern manners at that point.

    • 1dk1o0ijd says:

      This guy is a troll he’s not really him….

  6. MK says:

    The question should be simple. Since the gesture has a verbal equivalent that most everyone understands what would the law rule if he had *said* “f— you” to the people involved. My understanding is that, at least in some states, cursing a police officer constitutes “resisting an officer” even if you do nothing physically. So I would think whatever laws apply to the spoken words should apply to the gesture.

  7. Fernando Luis says:

    To MK:

    Seems like you are an officer of the law and would like to crush people giving you the middle finger. WELL Here is a middle finger for you.

  8. Fernando Luis says:

    If you get pissed at someones middle finger than you deserve it. Now some retard wants to minimize our rights. Thank you Hitler.

  9. Nancy Bil says:

    Here in Egypt , this not allowed , u will be in prison if u make it to anyone :) loool, we don’t have free speech

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