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Eugene Volokh

Eugene Volokh

Posted: December 12, 2007 03:53 PM

Free Speech Victory in Georgia -- Though It Shouldn't Have Gone This Far:

What's Your Reaction:

I heard about the initial arrest, but didn't have the time to blog about it — now it looks like the prosecutor has done the right thing:

On the day after Thanksgiving, [Robert Dean] Roethlisberger [Jr.] drove a truck with [14-feet-long] banners displaying images of aborted fetuses, including a bloody and headless torso. Roethlisberger works for Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion organization.

Roethlisberger, 44, of Belton, Mo., had been charged under a provision of Georgia law that makes it a crime to use "obscene and vulgar or profane language" in the presence of a person under age 14.

[Gwinnett County Solicitor Rosanna Szabo dropped the charge, and stated,] "I have reviewed the evidence and law in this case, and concluded that the physical display of the images in question --- as shocking and offensive as they are --- does not constitute 'obscene and vulgar or profane language' as specifically prohibited by this statute."

I'm glad Ms. Szabo dismissed the charges, but they should never have been filed in the first instance. It's quite clear that, disturbing as the images might be, they are protected by the First Amendment (and are very, very far from the obscenity exception, even the broader version of the exception that may be present when the material is visible by minors).