October 24, 2011

"The Constitutional Right to Insult Your Neighbors With Tombstone Displays."

Just one section of an article — PDF — in the New York State Bar Association Journal about Halloween-related lawsuits. (Via ABAJournal.)
The tombstones referenced the petitioning neighbors by name, and each contained a date of death based on that neighbor’s address. For example, one tombstone referencing a neighbor named Betty Gargarz stated:

Bette wasn’t ready,
But here she lies
Ever since that night she died, 
12 feet deep in this trench, 
Still wasn’t deep enough 
For that wenches stench! 
1690

The Seventh Circuit recognized the validity of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim. While the court noted that the tombstones were intended to elicit “an emotional response” from the neighbors, they were not “the sort of provocatively abusive speech that inherently tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace” such that they would be considered unprotected speech under the “fighting words” doctrine.

12 comments:

Chip S. said...

A very "J" Hallowe'en.

Scott M said...

I am more out of it than I thought. I was under the impression that "fighting words" doctrine was dead.

EDH said...

Don't sue: Get even.

traditionalguy said...

That is free speech, but it is mean speech too. The Hatfields and the McCoys probably started out that way.

The Lions linemen were free speeching too yesterday when it looked like the Falcon's QB was seriously injured.

The next game may look meaner.

The Detroit coach is known as a coach who encourages his players to intentionally destroy opponent's knees.

Where does it stop? A criminal assault warrant, with the coach named a co-conspirator?

Chip S. said...

I believe the traditional remedy in such cases involves eggs that haven't been stored properly, plus flaming paper sacks on doorsteps.

Lance said...

@Chip S.

My favorite was to get those garbage bags full of shredded paper from the city offices and spread them all over the yard, just before the sprinklers come on.

dbp said...

The tombstone display could be mean, or possibly a bit of warped humor. But what kind of weirdo sues over something like that?

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

Some people are just wrapped too tight. If my neighbor insulted me like that for Halloween, I'd be honored. It's a joke, people. Laugh - it doesn't hurt - really it doesn't.

Jaske said...

I agree with bagoh20, but I would retaliate with named pumpkin heads on my porch.

SunnyJ said...

Why I live out on a farm in no mans land...no neighbors close enough and my eyes are good enough to read the tombstones. Age related sensory loss does have it's benefits...what you don't see or hear you're not required to smack down.

Carnifex said...

This does not rise to the level of dark skinned scarecrows hanging from trees.(the NY incident) If you're hurt that bad from some doggerel, I suggest you move to a country like Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. Some Islamic hell hole with no speech rights at all. Then you won't be offended.