This happened right here in my home state of Tennessee, where we have one of the most egregious violations of the 1st Amendment on our law books: the ban on “obscene bumper stickers.”
Now, I’m no fan of Ohio State (I’m an SEC fan all the way), but good grief! Tennessee police actually pulled a woman over and harassed her over a buckeye leaf bumper sticker, mistaking it for a marijuana leaf.
from the Columbus Dispatch:
They were in the westbound lanes of I-40, a few miles east of Memphis, when a black police SUV with flashing lights pulled them over, Jonas-Boggioni said.A second black SUV soon pulled up behind the first one.
“Knowing I wasn’t speeding, I couldn’t imagine why,” she said.
Two officers approached, one on each side of the car.
“They were very serious,” she said. “They had the body armor and the guns.”
Because the couple’s two schnauzers were barking furiously, one of the officers had Jonas-Boggioni exit the car so he could hear her better.
“What are you doing with a marijuana sticker on your bumper?” he asked her.
She explained that it is actually a Buckeye leaf decal, just like the ones that Ohio State players are given to put on their helmets to mark good plays.
“He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language,” she said.
At that point, Boggioni got out of the car to show that he was wearing a commemorative sweatshirt from the 2002 national-championship season, complete with a Buckeye leaf.
The officer then explained that someone from outside his jurisdiction — apparently another officer — had spotted the leaf sticker and thought it might indicate that the car was carrying marijuana, Jonas-Boggioni said.
She was too rattled to notice what police department the officers represented. But she suspects that a joint drug-interdiction effort was under way because they had passed several law-enforcement vehicles from different agencies.
Neither the Tennessee Highway Patrol nor the Shelby County sheriff’s office in Memphis had information about the traffic stop. A marijuana sticker would not be a sufficient reason to stop a car, said a spokeswoman for the West Tennessee Drug Task Force.
Even if it were, Jonas-Boggioni said, police hunting drugs should know that a Buckeye leaf — which has five leaflets — doesn’t look much like a marijuana leaf, which typically has seven leaflets and a narrower shape.
Before they let her go on her way, the officers advised Jonas-Boggioni to remove the decal from her car.
“I said, ‘You mean in Tennessee?’ and he said, ‘No, permanently.’
“I didn’t take it off. . . . This little old lady is no drug dealer.”
Shame on the Tennessee police for ordering this woman to remove her bumper sticker. Shame on them for pulling her car over because of a bumper sticker! Even if it were a marijuana bumper sticker, it’s her right to have it there!
The 1st Amendment protects our right of speech, even speech that others may disagree with. The same Constitutional right that protects a person who has a marijuana bumper sticker protects another person who has an “abortion is murder” bumper sticker.
Sometimes I’m ashamed to be in Tennessee.