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Police Tell Man Stick Figure Bumper Sticker Is Obscene

| by Michael Allen

Dustin Owens was pulled over and ticketed by police on Feb. 10 in Nashville for his bumper sticker that features two stick figures having sex and the caption: "Making My Family."

Owens, who was cited for having an "obscene bumper sticker" on his truck, filed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Police Department  on March 2 that says the officer was wrong to cite him under Tennessee Code Annotated 55-8-187, notes Courthouse News Service.

Owens' lawsuit insists his bumper sticker is protected by the First Amendment:

The primary question presented in this case is whether the following sticker qualifies as an "obscenity" -- a narrow, unprotected category of speech reserved for hardcore pornography -- thereby causing it to lose the broad presumption of free-expression protection guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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Because this stick-figure cartoon does not come anywhere close to satisfying the applicable constitutional standard for obscenity, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department should be enjoined from punishing the plaintiff for displaying it.

According to Owens, the officer told him to remove the bumper sticker and "demonstrate full compliance" within 45 days.

Owens' lawsuit states: "To date, Mr. Owens has not complied. Consequently, Mr. Owens is currently living under the pain of a pending censorship order from the MNPD, and he is subject to being punished and prosecuted under penalty of law if he does not comply with it."

The Tennessee Code doesn't specifically define obscenity:

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To avoid distracting other drivers and thereby reduce the likelihood of accidents arising from lack of attention or concentration, the display of obscene and patently offensive movies, bumper stickers, window signs or other markings on or in a motor vehicle that are visible to other drivers is prohibited and display of such materials shall subject the owner of the vehicle on which they are displayed, upon conviction, to a fine of not less than two dollars ($2.00) nor more than fifty dollars ($50.00). “Obscene” or “patently offensive” has the meaning specified in § 39-17-901.

Owens' lawsuit, which was filed by Daniel Horwitz and David Hudson Jr., says that average citizens would not find the bumper sticker obscene:

The average person applying contemporary community standards would not find that Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon appeals predominantly to the prurient interest in sex. Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon does not depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct as defined by Tennessee law. Taken as whole, Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon does not lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Sources: Courthouse News Service, Justia US Law / Photo credit: The Free Thought Project

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