The F-Bomb: Protected By The 1st Amendment?

| Thu May 13, 2010 9:57 AM EDT

It's a good thing VP Joe Biden wasn't in Pennsylvania when he exclaimed that passing health care reform was a "big fucking deal." He might have found himself in trouble with the law. Apparently Pennsylvania law enforcement has aggressively ticketed and even jailed people for cursing, especially when the cursing was aimed at a police officer. But it turns out that swearing is not a crime. Indeed, it's very much protected free speech. No surprise, then, that the ACLU is now suing the state police commissioner on behalf of several people cited for cussing, including a mother of three who called a motorcycle driver an asshole after he nearly ran her over while she was out walking. When she called the police to report the incident, the cops cited her for swearing. Such cases are apparently commonplace. The Legal Intelligencer reports:

The ACLU has successfully defended about a dozen individuals against such charges, including Dawn Herb, a Scranton, Pa., woman, who swore at her clogged toilet in her home, and David Hackbart, a Pittsburgh man who "flipped off" a police officer with a middle-finger gesture in a dispute over a parking space. Hackbart's case revealed that the Pittsburgh police had cited people for profanity about 200 times over a four-year period, and resulted in a $50,000 settlement in fall 2009.

While you never want to see cops violating people's civil rights, perhaps the Pennsylvania war on swearing is a good sign: The crime rate these days must be low enough that the state's police officers have nothing better to do than ticket women cursing out their clogged toilets. Still, as an ACLU lawyer told the Intelligencer,  "We hope this lawsuit helps teach the state police an important lesson about respecting how people choose to express themselves."