NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana resort town is trying to stifle free speech with an ordinance aimed at barring a contractor from flying flags adorned with vulgar slurs against President Joe Biden and his supporters, according to one federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
The lawsuit against the barrier island city of Grand Isle says contractor Ross Brunet of Cut Off, Louisiana, works on the island regularly and has repeatedly raised three flags from his truck, according to court documents. One promoted breast cancer awareness. Two wore vulgarities aimed at Biden and people who voted for him.
According to the lawsuit, Brunet was ticketed seven times for raising the vulgar flags from his truck. He successfully fended off four tickets. Although he won those cases, he was later ticketed three more times. The last three cases were dropped after the city passed an ordinance that said signs on vehicles “cannot contain language that is deemed offensive and vulgar or obscene, and cannot contain language describing a sexual act.”
Attorney Katie Schwartzmann, director of the Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic, said in a statement Brunet was told he would be prosecuted under the new law. The clinic represents Brunet.
“Remarks that are lewd, vulgar, or relate to a sexual act are protected under the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states, adding, “Indeed, the central political discourse is often offensive to the listener, and yet is one.” highly protected form of speech.”
The lawsuit also alleges Brunet was unconstitutionally arrested when he was pulled over and ticketed.
“Mr. Brunet’s speech was indeed chilled,” the lawsuit says. “He is afraid of his protected political speech on Grand Isle and is refraining from it for fear of government punishment or further retaliation.”
Brunet is demanding an unspecified amount of damages and a court statement that he was engaged in protected speech when he was raising his flags.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are Mayor David Camardelle, the police chief, the officer who issued the subpoenas, the city attorney and a judge of the Grand Isle Magistrates’ Court. They declined comment in an email from the town clerk to The Associated Press.