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Attorneys say truck owner has right to display message

Sign by Hughestown man that contains expletive might be judged obscene, but lawyers contend it’s free speech.

Hughestown police charged Joseph Decker with disorderly conduct over this sign placed in the rear window of his truck. The photo was provided, and the expletive blocked out, by WNEP-TV Channel 16.

A Hughestown man has the right to express his opinion in any way he seems fit, including the use of a word many deem obscene, two attorneys said.

Joseph Decker, 39, of Parsonage Street, was charged by Hughestown police with disorderly conduct over a sign he placed in the rear window of his Dodge Ram pickup truck.

Decker said he placed the sign that says, “If you’re in America and can’t speak English, get the (expletive) out” after he called his bank and had trouble understanding the call taker a few months ago.

“You get these people when you call these call centers and they don’t speak English,” Decker said.

Police said they received complaints about the sign that is exposed to children walking to Pittston Area’s Martin L. Mattei Middle School on New Street.

“From what I understand, the reason for the citation is due to the children nearby,” said attorney Joseph Cosgrove, who is also a constitutional law instructor at King’s College. “That’s called content-based discrimination. It is absolutely, totally and fully unconstitutional.”

“It may be offensive, but you can’t legislate or criminalize free speech,” attorney John Pike said, concurring. “Expressing one’s opinion is protected.”

Cosgrove and Pike referred to the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cohen v. California that ruled the use of obscene language or words is considered free speech.

In that decision, similar to Decker’s case, a 19-year-old man was cited in Los Angeles in 1968 for wearing a jacket bearing the words “(Expletive) the Draft.”

It’s the same word as Decker placed on his truck.

“If you go back to that case, a guy wearing a jacket expressing his opinion about the draft, the (U.S. Supreme) court said it’s protected speech,” Pike said. “Same goes here.”

The word is also listed in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

“I find (Decker’s) message and the use of this language distasteful, but the constitution protects it,” Cosgrove said.

Decker is cited under the disorderly conduct’s section of using obscene language or making an obscene gesture with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, according to the citation filed with District Judge Fred Pierantoni in Pittston on Nov. 11.

Police said complaints filed by parents walking their children to school are examples that the sign is a public annoyance.

“It may be bad taste, but his intent to my understanding is not to annoy people, he’s just speaking his mind,” Pike said.

“Issuing the citation is an incredible gross violation of the constitution and is without any possible justification, Cosgrove said.

Decker said he plans to plead not guilty to the citation.

A summary trial has not been scheduled.

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