NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana resort town is trying to suppress free speech with an ordinance aimed at stopping a contractor from flying flags emblazoned with vulgar insults aimed at President Joe Biden and his supporters, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit against the barrier island town of Grand Isle says contractor Ross Brunet of Cut Off, Louisiana, works on the island regularly and has repeated flown three flags from his truck, according to court documents. One promoted breast cancer awareness. Two bore vulgarities aimed at Biden and people who voted for him.
Brunet was ticketed seven times for flying the vulgar flags from his truck, according to the lawsuit. He successfully defended himself against four tickets. Despite winning those cases, he was later ticketed three more times. The last three cases were dropped after the town adopted an ordinance stating that signs on vehicles “shall not contain language deemed offensive and vulgar nor obscene in nature and cannot contain language that describes a sex act.”
Attorney Katie Schwartzmann, director of the Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic, said in a statement that Brunet was told he would be prosecuted under the new law. The clinic is representing Brunet.
“Speech that is offensive, vulgar or that references a sex act is protected by the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states, adding, “Indeed, core political speech is often offensive to the listener, and yet is a highly protected form of speech.”
The legal action also alleges Brunet was unconstitutionally detained when he was stopped and ticketed.
“Mr. Brunet’s speech has in fact been chilled,” according to the lawsuit. “He is fearful of and refrains from engaging in his protected political speech in Grand Isle, out of fear of government punishment or further retaliatory action.”
Brunet seeks an unspecified amount of damages and a court declaration that he was engaged in protected speech when he flew his flags.
Defendants named in the lawsuit are Mayor David Camardelle, the police chief, the officer who issued the citations, the town attorney and a Grand Isle magistrate judge. They declined comment in an email to The Associated Press from the town clerk.