Andrea Dick is a die-hard supporter of former President Donald J. Trump and thinks the election was stolen from him, though that declare has been totally discredited. She doesn’t like President Biden, and that’s placing it mildly.
Her opinions are clear in the blunt slogans blaring from the banners exterior her New Jersey house: “Don’t Blame Me/I Voted for Trump” and a number of other others that assault Mr. Biden in crude phrases. Several characteristic a phrase that some individuals discover notably objectionable however whose use the Supreme Court way back dominated couldn’t be restricted merely to guard these it offends.
When native officers requested her to take down a number of of the banners that they mentioned violated an anti-obscenity ordinance, she refused. Now, she is resisting a decide’s order that she achieve this and pledging to struggle it in courtroom on free speech grounds.
“It’s my First Amendment right,” she mentioned in an interview on Monday, “and I’m going to stick with that.”
In a rustic the place the political fault strains are more and more jagged and deep, Ms. Dick’s case is the newest of a number of such disputes to spotlight the delicate stability native officers should typically strike between defending free speech and responding to considerations about language that some residents discover offensive.
Ms. Dick, 54, mentioned she acquired the banners — which can be found from Amazon and different retailers — earlier this 12 months, however didn’t cling them on the house in Roselle Park the place she lives along with her mom, or on the fence exterior, till Memorial Day.
“Something must have gotten me worked up,” she mentioned.
Shortly after the vacation weekend, she mentioned, she grew to become conscious that some Roselle Park residents, noting that her house was close to a college, had been upset about the language on the banners and about the potential for passing kids to see it.
Ms. Dick, whose mom, Patricia Dilascio, owns the home, mentioned that no kids lived on the block and that no kids routinely stroll by on their solution to the college.
But the city’s mayor, Joseph Signorello III, mentioned he had acquired a number of complaints about the banners, which he handed on to the borough’s code enforcement officer. Residents of Roselle Park, a city of 14,000 individuals a few 40-minute drive from Times Square, voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Biden in November.
“This is not about politics in any way,” mentioned Mr. Signorello, a Democrat. He added that officers would have taken the similar steps if the indicators expressed opposition to Mr. Trump utilizing related language. “It’s about decency.”
After visiting the house, the code enforcement officer, Judy Mack, cited Ms. Dilascio for violating a Roselle Park ordinance that prohibits the show or exhibition of obscene materials inside the borough.
Ms. Mack mentioned that in additional than 12 years as a code enforcement officer in Roselle Park, she had by no means invoked the ordinance earlier than. She additionally mentioned that whereas Mr. Signorello had handed on the residents’ complaints, he had not directed her to take any particular motion.
“I’m only doing my job,” Ms. Mack mentioned.
Ms. Dick was given a couple of days to take away the banners, Ms. Mack mentioned. When she didn’t, she was given a summons to seem in courtroom.
At that look, final Thursday, Judge Gary A. Bundy of Roselle Park Municipal Court gave Ms. Dilascio, as the property proprietor, every week to take away three of the 10 indicators displayed on the property — the ones together with the offending phrase — or face fines of $250 a day.
“There are alternative methods for the defendant to express her pleasure or displeasure with certain political figures in the United States,” Judge Bundy mentioned in his ruling, noting the proximity of Ms. Dick’s house to a college.
The use of vulgarity, he continued, “exposes elementary-age children to that word, every day, as they pass by the residence.”
“Freedom of speech is not simply an absolute right,” he added, noting later that “the case is not a case about politics. It is a case, pure and simple, about language. This ordinance does not restrict political speech.” (Nj.com reported Judge Bundy’s ruling on Friday.)
Jarrid Kantor, Roselle Park’s borough legal professional, applauded the decide’s determination, saying that native officers had been cautious to not make a problem out of the political nature of Ms. Dick’s banners and had centered as a substitute on the potential hurt to kids.
“We think he got it just right,” Mr. Kantor mentioned.
But Thomas Healy, a regulation professor at Seton Hall University with experience in constitutional points, disagreed.
Citing a 1971 Supreme Court determination, Cohen v. California, that turned on the query of whether or not the similar phrase at concern in Ms. Dick’s case was obscene, Professor Healy mentioned the phrase clearly didn’t qualify as obscene speech in the context of the political banners.
“It’s hard to imagine a simpler case from a constitutional standpoint,” he mentioned, including that he could be “stunned” if Judge Bundy’s ruling had been upheld.
Professor Healy mentioned he additionally discovered it troubling that the enforcement motion had come after the mayor relayed considerations about the banners to the code enforcement officer, although each of them mentioned that Mr. Signorello had not directed any particular motion.
“It doesn’t look good,” Professor Healy mentioned.
Conflicts like the one involving Ms. Dick have flared up this 12 months on Long Island; in Indiana, Tennessee and Connecticut; and a few half-hour’s drive south of Roselle Park, in Hazlet, N.J.
Hazlet officers acquired complaints like these in Roselle Park when a house owner put up an identical anti-Biden banner there, Mayor Tara Clark mentioned.
Citing an anti-nuisance ordinance, Ms. Clark mentioned, officers approached the home-owner final month and requested that he take away the offending flag, however they didn’t take any steps to drive him to take action.
“We knew that there were residents who were upset,” she mentioned. “but we also know that free speech is protected under the Constitution of the United States.”
Though some individuals might need been sad that the banner couldn’t be compelled down, Ms. Clark mentioned that she and her fellow Hazlet officers felt it was essential to face up for the First Amendment.
“It ended there,” she mentioned. (The home-owner took the banner down final week, she mentioned.)
As for Ms. Dick, she and her mom have about two weeks to attraction Judge Bundy’s ruling to New Jersey Superior Court. He mentioned the each day fines would start accruing on Thursday if the offending banners remained up, regardless of whether or not Ms. Dick and her mom selected to attraction. If they do attraction, he advised they take the banners down pending the final result.
On Monday, Ms. Dick didn’t sound like she deliberate to observe that recommendation. She mentioned she was in search of a brand new lawyer and was dedicated to seeing the case by means of.
“I’m not backing down,” she mentioned.