Comparison Case: Flipping the Bird

Protected speech?

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled on whether sticking the middle finger up at a police officer was punishable or protected free speech. The case is a little more complicated than just that question, as the motorist did violate the law and earned a citation before the obscene gesture. The officer initially issued a lesser ticket than he could have after the stop. The motorist gave her thanks with one finger once she figured the stop was over. The officer then upgraded the ticket to a level he could have issued originally. Another technical detail, the cop/local government argue that denying officers’ right to determine such punishments will inhibit their rights to qualified immunity–something police officers and many other government workers have in that they should not get sued for doing their J.O.B.

Examine a summary of this case and the court’s ruling from National Public Radio.  Complete the question that follows. 


1. What were the basic facts of the case, the story?

2. What government action is at question?

3. What was this court’s reasoning?

4. Given what you know about Tinker v. Des Moines, how might this case have evolved if this situation happens involving a student in a public school and directed at a school official?”

If interested, there is an entire, and evolving, body of law around citizens, the cops, and the middle finger. Check out this recent Wake Forest Law Review article


Photo/Image: By Newton Graffiti