GREYBULL -- The Town of Greybull will not be directing its police officers to cite residents who fly flags or post signs with obscene language, citing as the reason the protection of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.
"F___ Biden and F___ You for Voting for Him" signs have popped up around the Big Horn Basin in recent months. A sign north of Worland may be the most high profile of them, but some flags with that same message have been spotted in Greybull, too. One was on Sixth Avenue North, the other on the south end of town near the elementary school.
The author of a recent letter to the editor of the Greybull Standard urged the community to rise up against public obscenity of this kind. He cited Section B of Greybull Town Ordinance 9.40.110, which states, "It is unlawful for any person or persons to write or print any obscene or indecent language on any building or sign within the corporate limits of the town, or to draw or paint any indecent picture or advertisement upon any building or other place within the town.”
Town Attorney Kent Richins told the Greybull Town Council on Monday’s that he looked into the legality of the signs. While he personally used words like “despicable,” “inappropriate” and “not good for children or families” to describe the signs, he feels they are a protected form of free speech.
He cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision from the 1940s. In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "offensive language can be censored only if it 1) constitutes a personally abusive epithet; 2) addressed in a face-to-face manner; 3) to a specific individual; and 4) uttered under such circumstances that the words have a direct tendency to cause an immediate, violent response by an ordinary, reasonable recipient.”
Richins said these "fighting words" are the only words that are not protected by the First Amendment, and for that reason, he told the council, “I cannot recommend that law enforcement go and cite folks for these signs.”
As long as the flags are on private property — which was the case for the two in Greybull — and the person who might find them to be "fighting words" isn't present — which Biden is not — they are protected by the First Amendment, according to Richins.
Councilor Kaitlyn Johnson said she supports people being allowed to speak their minds, but using “cuss language” in such a public way isn’t an appropriate way of doing so.