Nashville, TN — Last Month, Nashville resident Dustin Owens was pulled over by police who were protecting society from the likes of a bumper sticker of two poorly drawn stick figures, with the caption ‘Making my family.’ Owens was ticketed and given 45 days to comply with the citation and remove the sticker. However, Owens refused and could now face jail.
Citing Tennessee Code Annotated 55-8-187, police claim that Owen’s stick figure sticker is patently offensive.
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).
On Thursday, Owens filed a countering lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court claiming the police were wrong to ticket him for the bumper sticker.
“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,” according to the complaint against the Metro Nashville Police Department.
“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,” the lawsuit states.
According to Owens, he was pulled over by police and ticketed by the officer who ordered him to remove the stick figures from his car and “demonstrate full compliance” within 45 days.
“To date, Mr. Owens has not complied,” his lawsuit states. “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.”
For refusing to remove this harmless bumper sticker, Owens faces the very real possibility of being kidnapped by police and thrown in a cage. This stand by Owens, although it may seem humorous because of the content, is a very real and powerful one.
“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,” the complaint states. “Taken as whole, Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon does not lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
When police can claim the legal authority to pull someone over and demand money from that person, because of a drawing on a sticker, something is very wrong. When a man is facing the possibility of losing his freedom for a bumper sticker that harms no one, the very notion of the land of the free is seen for the farce that it is.
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