Right to Wrong Speech

Right Speech in Buddhism – the Bangkok blog for meditation and Buddhist Vipassana meditation:

Do you have a right to Free Speech in your own house?

Woman charged with swearing at toilet

A Pennsylvania woman is facing a jail sentence after she was arrested for shouting profanities at an overflowing toilet.

Dawn Herb was inside her own home in West Scranton when her neighbour, a police officer, heard her swearing through an open window.

He asked her to “keep it down” and, when that did not work, called police colleagues who came out and charged her with disorderly conduct.

Ms Herb is now facing up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to the equivalent of about £150, reports The Times-Tribune.

She said: “It doesn’t make any sense. I was in my house. It’s not like I was outside or drunk. A cop can charge you with disorderly conduct for disrespecting them?”

Although she doesn’t recall exactly what she said, she admitted she was frustrated with her overflowing toilet and let a few choice words fly.

“The toilet was overflowing and leaking down into the kitchen and I was yelling for my daughter to get the mop,” she said.

Mary Catherine Roper, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Ms Herb would have a strong case in court.

“You can’t prosecute somebody for swearing at a cop or a toilet,” she said.

Her case was taken up by Civil rights group the American Civil Liberties Union, which defended her right to wrong speech. Winning the case earlier in the year Dawn Herb has now been awarded $12 000 compensation. Free speech goes all the way in the land of the free, and pays dividends too.

Now the court case is over and it seems that Americans have a right to wrong speech, enshrined in their constitution. The woman was let off the hook, although one imagines that she was rather more nicely spoken to the judge:

Dawn Herb, 31, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was charged after an off duty police officer overheard her swear at an overflowing toilet.

Officer Patrick Gilman told the hearing he heard someone yell: “Are you f***ing retarded? Get me the f***ing mop.

Patrolman Gilman said he then yelled, “Watch your mouth“, to which the person replied: “F*** off“!

He then called Patrolman Gerald Tallo, who was on duty at the time, who charged Ms Herb after she admitted cursing at her toilet.

But District Judge Terrence Gallagher has now ruled she did nothing wrong, reports the Scranton Times-Tribune.

He dismissed the disorderly conduct charge which could have led to up to 90 days in jail and a £150 fine.

The language she used “may be considered by some to be offensive, vulgar and imprudent” but she was entitled to use it under the First Amendment, the judge ruled.

Attorney Barry Dyller, who was asked to represent Ms Herb by the American Civil Liberties Union, said Judge Gallagher made the right decision.

“He’s exactly right in his reasoning,” Mr. Dyller said. “And it’s important that the public understands this. There are cases like this each year.”

Incidentally, don’t try this in the U.K. – swearing at policemen is a criminal offense there.

Even if the courts rule that you have a right to use wrong speech, it does not mean that your wife will let you use it unpunished. A lesson learned the hard way by a husband in Georgia:

Police were called to a house in the US after a woman knocked out her husband with a potato.

She picked up the spud and threw it at him when he called her a rude name during a row in Nicholson, Georgia.

The potato hit him square in the nose and knocked him out cold, reports Metro News.

The pair had started to argue in the kitchen in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning after they had been drinking.

The 43-year-old woman said she didn’t mean to hit her husband and called police as soon as he fell unconscious.

The husband decided not to press charges – seems they are best ‘spuddies’ again.