www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

Roberts not the answer -10/30/2014, 10:25 AM

See the signs -10/30/2014, 10:23 AM

Incumbents always win -10/30/2014, 10:23 AM

Convention center -10/30/2014, 10:23 AM

Schodorf for SOS -10/30/2014, 10:14 AM

Supermarket shenanigans -10/29/2014, 10:19 AM

Americans can fix the Senate -10/29/2014, 10:19 AM

A plea to city commissioners -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Having no price tag -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Leiker understands -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Justice doing his job -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Kansas and Greg Orman -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

'Surplus' KDOT money needed in western KS -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Ready for a budget spin -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Dishonest mailing -10/28/2014, 8:58 AM

Changing Republicans -10/27/2014, 10:02 AM

Follow the votes -10/27/2014, 10:02 AM

Shameful attempts -10/27/2014, 10:02 AM

Slanderous ads repulsive -10/27/2014, 10:02 AM

Medicare experiment -10/27/2014, 10:02 AM

Profile, or die -10/27/2014, 10:02 AM

Important issues -10/27/2014, 10:01 AM

Politics at their finest -10/27/2014, 10:01 AM

Most important election -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Enough is enough -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Is Roberts on final lap? -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Democrat turned Brownback supporter -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Editor Bradlee; For it All, 'Thank You' -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Davis for governor -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Roberts a changed man -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Time to stay the course -10/26/2014, 4:02 PM

Embarrassing economists -10/24/2014, 9:13 AM

Sherow for House -10/24/2014, 5:07 PM

It can't get crazier (wanna bet?) -10/24/2014, 9:04 AM

Digital distractions -10/23/2014, 10:01 AM

Orman for Senate -10/23/2014, 10:01 AM

Federal persecutors -10/23/2014, 10:00 AM

More ed cuts coming -10/22/2014, 5:38 PM

Leiker is the answer -10/22/2014, 5:38 PM

Sun shining on schools? -10/22/2014, 5:38 PM

Airline a great addition -10/22/2014, 5:38 PM

Huelksamp: ideologue extraordinaire -10/22/2014, 5:38 PM

Kids do count -10/22/2014, 10:31 AM

Needing the past in the future? -10/22/2014, 10:31 AM

In praise of hunting -10/22/2014, 10:30 AM

What is a CID? Will it work for mall? -10/21/2014, 10:22 AM

Judging importance on the ballot -10/21/2014, 10:22 AM

Kansas Speaks -10/21/2014, 10:22 AM

Paying for schools -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Joining forces for Orman -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Research before voting -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Davis is moderate? -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

The most important election in your lifetime -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Huelskamp stands out -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Kansas farm interests -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

Keeping unfounded reports from 'going viral' -10/19/2014, 1:21 PM

The age of cynicism -10/18/2014, 9:02 AM

Preventable diseases -10/17/2014, 10:28 AM

Second term needed -10/17/2014, 10:28 AM

Kansans deserve better -10/17/2014, 10:28 AM

Officially killing Americans -10/17/2014, 10:27 AM

New era at FHSU -10/16/2014, 10:01 AM

Roberts is right choice -10/16/2014, 10:01 AM

Crumbling Constitution -10/16/2014, 9:52 AM

Redbelly's future -10/16/2014, 9:52 AM

Kansas deserves better -10/15/2014, 10:23 AM

Remember to vote on Nov. 4 -10/15/2014, 10:23 AM

You almost feel sorry for Sean Groubert -10/15/2014, 10:23 AM

Register to vote -10/14/2014, 10:14 AM

Living on that 70 percent -10/14/2014, 10:14 AM

New bullying problem for schools: parents -10/14/2014, 10:14 AM

Cheerios, marriage equality, the Supreme Court -10/13/2014, 9:49 AM

Wedded bliss -10/12/2014, 5:54 PM

Who is the real fraud? -10/12/2014, 5:08 PM

Teenagers 'make some noise' -10/12/2014, 5:08 PM

Not so private property -10/10/2014, 10:01 AM

Federal funding -10/10/2014, 10:01 AM

Teacher indoctrination -10/10/2014, 10:01 AM

Vote Republican -10/9/2014, 9:49 AM

Non-partisan politics -10/9/2014, 9:49 AM

Teen driver safety week Oct. 19 to 25 -10/9/2014, 9:04 AM

FHSU party -10/9/2014, 10:11 AM

Poverty in America -10/9/2014, 10:11 AM

Let the women serve -10/9/2014, 10:11 AM

Time for new direction -10/8/2014, 9:49 AM

Improving Kansas economically -10/8/2014, 9:35 AM

Water abusers -10/8/2014, 9:35 AM

Play safe on the farm -10/8/2014, 9:34 AM

Where the money comes from -10/7/2014, 10:24 AM

The president's security -10/7/2014, 10:24 AM

Marriage equality -10/7/2014, 10:24 AM

The sins of the father are visited -10/6/2014, 9:02 AM

Cannabis in America: The bottom line -10/6/2014, 9:20 AM

A reason to celebrate -10/6/2014, 9:20 AM

Gov. shields wealthy from paying for schools -10/5/2014, 2:07 PM

Passionate protest in defense of civil disorder -10/5/2014, 2:07 PM

October is time for baseball and, of course, film premieres -10/4/2014, 2:16 PM

Alley cleanup -10/3/2014, 10:01 AM

Will the West defend itself? -10/3/2014, 10:01 AM

Find another school -10/3/2014, 10:01 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

A 'flash' of insight on free speech

Published on -2/16/2014, 1:51 PM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

If you associate the First Amendment more with the rarified air of constitutional debate, or powdered wigs and colonial days, try thinking in more modern terms -- say speed traps and blinking headlights.

For most of us, much of the Bill of Rights comes into play infrequently, if ever. A few examples: According to a 2013 survey, only one in three U.S. households are home to a firearm (Second Amendment). And thankfully, protection in our lifetimes against illegal search and seizure (Fourth) or self-incrimination (Fifth) will be more legal theory rather than active tool.

But the First Amendment -- the nation's "blue collar" amendment -- goes to work every day alongside us. We regularly, if not daily, use the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition to worship as we will, to speak our minds freely, and to ask our elected leaders to make changes on matters of public interest.

There are disputes about the way we apply those core freedoms, sometimes reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. But at other times, the legal collision and decision are more down-to-earth and closer to home. Case in point, Michael J. Elli challenged a city ordinance in his hometown, Ellisville, Mo., that permitted police to ticket drivers who flashed headlights to warn oncoming motorists approaching a speed trap.

At approximately 2:50 p.m. Nov. 17, 2012, Elli flashed his headlights after passing police. He was stopped and ticketed. Elli faced a $1,000 fine, and later was warned by a municipal judge about a charge of "obstruction of justice."

The city dropped the prosecution after Elli pled not guilty, and later said it ordered police not to enforce the law. Nonetheless, Elli proceeded with a federal lawsuit. In early February, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey issued an order to make certain he stopped the "chilling effect" on citizens exercising their First Amendment right of free speech.

Judge Henry's ruling makes the important point that Missouri law forbids someone from warning of "impending discovery or apprehension," but specifically excludes telling someone to comply with the law. In other words, communicating "slow down" is protected speech because it encourages safer driving.

An attorney for Elli from the American Civil Liberties Union, Tony Rothert, told the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog there was a higher principle involved, too: With rare exception, the police shouldn't be stopping or prosecuting people because of the content of their speech.

As it happens, along with headlight warnings, other courts have protected a range of "speech," from the spoken word to expressive conduct, where government can not prosecute.

While it might be rude to do so, and well might mean a risk of arrest before later exoneration, courts have said people can confront police officers using insulting words, hand and finger gestures to a degree more than they could similarly challenge other "civilians." In City of Houston v. Hill, in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court noted "a properly trained officer may reasonably be expected to exercise a greater degree of restraint than the average citizen" to such expressive conduct.

The point is not that courts are encouraging us to be insulting or disrespectful to police or other authorities -- rather that government, from the lowest to highest official in the land, cannot override our right to speak freely without presenting good reason rooted in law.

In Houston, Justice William J. Brennan wrote "the right of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state. ... The First Amendment recognizes, wisely we think, that a certain amount of expressive disorder not only is inevitable in a society committed to individual freedom, but must itself be protected if that freedom would survive."

We traditionally celebrate freedom with fireworks on July 4, Independence Day. Maybe an occasional flick or two of the high-beams is in order, too.

Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute's First Amendment Center.

gpolicinski@newseum.org

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos