Texas sheriff calls out anti-Trump truck decal, sparking free speech debate

(CNN)They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that apparently includes truck decals.

A Texas sheriff on Wednesday suggested criminal charges are possible for the owner of a white truck that bears a profane message for President Donald Trump and his supporters, sparking a debate about the line between obscene words and freedom of speech.
“F*** TRUMP AND F*** YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM” reads the decal in bold white letters. A hand with a middle finger extended sits in the middle of the decal.
    In a post on Facebook, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy E. Nehls said he had received numerous calls about the offending sticker. The truck is often seen along FM 359, a state highway near Richmond, Nehls wrote.
    He asked for tips on the identity of the truck’s owner and said he would “like to discuss it” with the owner.
    “Our Prosecutor has informed us she would accept Disorderly Conduct charges regarding it, but I feel we could come to an agreement regarding a modification to it,” Nehls wrote.
    The Facebook post was no longer visible Thursday morning after it was removed or the privacy settings were changed.
    In the comments, Nehls also had posted the legal definition of disorderly conduct in Texas.
    A disorderly conduct charge targets a person who intentionally”uses abusive indecent, profane, or vulgar language in a public place” or “makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place” that “tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

    ‘I’m not violating any laws or rules’

    Karen Cook Fonseca, who owns the truck with her husband, told CNN she put the decal up about 11 months ago. She said there was “no particular reason” they decided to stick the message on the back of the truck.
    “We wanted our statement out there. That’s our opinion on him,” she said.
    The decal has gone viral several times, she said, and she gets plenty of feedback on the road. She receives some negative reactions, particularly among older white men, but most people stop to laugh, tell her stories or ask where to buy it, Fonseca said.
    “A lot of females say I wish I had the balls to do that,” she said.
    Fonseca, who has children, said she’s heard the criticism from some parents. But she said that having children doesn’t make you lose your freedom of speech.
    “I’m not going to remove it because I know I’m not violating any laws or rules,” she said.
    On Thursday, Fonseca was arrested on an outstanding felony fraud warrant, issued by the police in nearby Rosenberg, Texas.
    Fonseca’s bond was set at $1,500, and she was released late Thursday night, according to CNN affiliate KTRK.
    She said she didn’t know she had a warrant, and she questions the timing of the arrest.
    “People abuse the badge, in my opinion, and money talks,” she told KTRK.

    Free speech?

    The sheriff’s Facebook post sparked an intense discussion among commenters, with a number of them suggesting the First Amendment protected the phrase.
    “You have a problem with political speech? Great. Resign, and spend your days trying to amend the Constitution. In the meantime, the first amendment is clear, and you are in the wrong,” Jason Weinman wrote.
    Another commenter, Linzi Bee, wrote, “I’ve seen this truck, and I would (be) pleased if the owner of this vehicle was prosecuted for disorderly conduct. My children saw this, and I was infuriated they were subjected to this offensive display.”
    The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas asked the truck owner to contact the organization and offered the sheriff a free legal tip.
    “Constitutional Law 101: You can’t ban speech just because it has “f@ck” in it,” the group wrote.
    Profanity is sometimes, but not always, protected under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
    In 1942, the US Supreme Court ruled in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire that certain “fighting words,” which would tend to incite violence, are not protected under the First Amendment.
    However, in the 1971 case of Cohen v. California, the high court overturned the conviction of a man who wore a jacket in a courtroom with the words “F*** the draft.” The 5-4 ruling found those words would not immediately incite violence and should be considered protected political speech.

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