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article imageFlipping the Bird Worth 50 Grand to Pittsburgh Federalist

By Bob Gordon     Nov 26, 2009 in Politics
Is 'flipping the bird' a constitutional right in the United States? Is 'giving the finger' protected by the right to freedom of expression? The ACLU thinks so and so do the courts. Pittsburgh Council agrees to the tune of $50,000.
Parallel parking can get the best of anyone, at least occasionally. It certainly got the best of thirty-five-year-old David Hackbart, of Butler, in April, 2006. The situation got even more frustrating when a car encroached on Hackbart, limiting his space to maneuver.
At this point Hackbart lost his temper and 'flipped the bird' at the driver behind him. A third party shouted at Hackbart to refrain from the middle-fingered salute. Hackbart responded by 'flipping the bird' at the third party also. That person turned out to be Sgt. Brian Elledge of the Pittsburgh Police Department. "Elledge ordered Hackbart to stop his vehicle and cited him for violating a state statute prohibiting the use of obscene language and gestures," reports.
In June, after a first trial, the judge did not agree with the officer that layed the charges. Judge Cercone ruled that with only a few exceptions ' flipping the bird' is a constitutionally protected right:
Hackbart, in this instance, was expressing his frustration and anger when he gestured with his middle finger to both the driver behind him and to Elledge. Both gestures are protected expressions under the First Amendment, unless they fall within a narrowly limited category of unprotected speech such as obscene speech or fighting words.
In September a federal court judge postponed indefinitely a trial, on the recommendation of attorneys for both parties. On October 17, 2006, the Assistant District Attorney withdrew the disorderly conduct charge against Hackbart. Consequently, Hackbart initiated a civil suit against the city of Pittsburgh.
Subsequently, Pittsburgh city council approved a motion to pay compensation to Hackbart. On Tuesday, November 24, Pittsburgh’s City Council approved paying $50,000 to settle Hackbart’s lawsuit. A second vote is required to confirm the decision.
Of the proposed $50,000 settlement, Hackbart told WTAE (Pittsburgh), "he would receive only $10,000. His lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union would split the remaining $40,000."
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