Free speech limits on bumper stickers and t-shirts

I think I know the answer to this, but was interested in hearing other folks’ thoughts.

Driving yesterday I passed a jeep which had a decal saying “Only on a jeep” accompanied by an stick-figure image of guy having sex with a woman bent over the hood of a jeep.

I tend to be an extreme free speech advocate, and think this is just in horrible taste, tho permissable. Same thing I think when I see folk wearing t-shirts displaying the word “F**K”. Not too far from confederate flags, and just a step away from truck-nuts and naked lady mudflaps.

I’ll do a little research, but I wondered what you folk thought. Are there/ought there be restrictions on the images/sentiments one ought to be allowed to display on their clothing/vehicles?

No. I prefer the douchenozzles to be clearly marked so I can avoid them. It’s a public service.

The things you describe are pretty tame, and of course should be no issue. But I don’t consider sexual images or an expletive to be “speech”.
So if a guy were driving along with a photo of a schlong along the side of his car I wouldn’t have an issue with it being a crime and him being forced to remove it, and I don’t feel I’m being inconsistent on that.

I am much much much more in favor of freedom of speech by word or image than I am in someone restricting my range of expression. And if I favor it for me, I have to favor it for everybody.

If they are art, then they are protected speech, no?

I was just stating an opinion rather than making a claim about US law. The OP was partly a “what ought to be legal” question.

OK, but is that really your opinion? The states should be able to prohibit “sexual images” in art work?

I’m pretty anti-censorship and pro-freedom of speech, but I also don’t particularly want to explain what an image like the OP describes means to my seven year old either.

Yeah - that’s pretty much my position.

When I encounter something that really bothers me, I’m reminded how important it is that speech not be restricted. (The one I used to encounter regularly that bothered me the most was the folk outside the Chicago train station lining the sidewalks with poster-sized images of aborted fetuses.)

There are time/place/manner restrictions for certain speech. I wonder about someone “expressing speech” outside a preschool or somesuch…

But if the Phelpses can parade outside funerals, and folk can picket clinics providing abortion - well, acts/speech such as those impress me as clearly more offensive - and intended to cause distress - than the type of stupidity my OP describes.

What if it were a picture of Michaelangelo’s David?

Of course such things are speech, in the sense that they’re symbols intended to convey meaning. You may not like the meaning they convey, and you might reasonably argue that such speech shouldn’t be protected, but saying they’re not speech seems to me to betray a misunderstanding of what “free speech” means. It’s not just about making sound waves with your larynx.

In general, I’d pretty much agree with this. It doesn’t bother me what people say or what images or whatever they might display. There’s certainly a lot of things that are in poor taste, but I don’t think poor taste ought to be a crime.

That all said, one interpretation that I’d heard and I don’t think is entirely unreasonable that in order to be counted as protected speech, it has to actually be communicating something. That is, if it’s art, it’s protected. If it has a political message, it’s protected. If someone paints a giant penis on his van just to offend everyone or has a “Fuck the World” shirt, it’s just for shock value, not necessarily protected. Then again, sometimes the art IS in the sheer shock value and getting people to think, though I think that requires some intent and creativity on the part of the artist.

But the real question is, do we really want law makers and law enforcement to be making choices over what is and is not considered art or should be protected speech? I think that line is nearly impossible to draw and that’s exactly why it’s protected by the First Amendment. In the same way that it was said they’d rather let 10 guilty men go free than imprison one innocent man, I’d rather deal with 10 obnoxious uses of free speech than let one political voice or one legitimate work of art get restricted.

I hear this argument a lot, but I don’t understand why it is compelling. Why can’t you just say “it’s an image in really poor taste. I don’t think much of it.” No seven-year-old on earth has the power to compel a graphic explanation, and if you don’t appear to care much about it, chances are good that he or she won’t either.

If it’s a gotcha question because his / her friends already know it’s dirty, you can just say “it’s in poor taste because it’s degrading to women. A long time ago some people used to think that was okay.”

Would you agree that if someone wrote under a forbidden image, “I think this image should be protected as free speech,” that it should be free speech?

If the First Amendment will protect Larry Flynt it will protect you. I’m very cautious about limiting any sort of speech.

If anything that offends someone is made illegal, this world would be a very drab and boring place. And that offends me.

How is that degrading to women? Women don’t/can’t like having sex on a car? :dubious:

I agree with you that it will only be as big a deal to your kid as you make it.

I’ve heard the argument that pornography in general is degrading to women, more because of who controls the production, distribution, and consumption of images than the acts depicted therein. I don’t have a strong opinion either way.

True, but in my case I also have an eleven year old boy in the car with me and my younger son, and since he knows what the image is, he will happily fill the youngest in on all the lurid details!


In that case, you hold the line on poor taste, no further explanation, knowing the 11-year-old will lead his brother astray no matter what they see in your presence!

But the first amendment doesn’t allow LF to display his magazine content on his car and drive it around in public.

There are really two issues here, and they depend on the context. There is the right to free speech, but also the public interest of limiting “distasteful”, but not political or artistic speech, to certain times and places. I’m not a huge fan of the latter issue, but I it’s well established as a limit on the 1st amendment.