Pennsylvania police to halt profanity citations

Wed Jan 5, 2011 12:21pm EST
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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Pennsylvania State Police have agreed to stop issuing disorderly conduct citations to people who use profane language, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

The ACLU sued the police in May 2010 on behalf of a woman ticketed for yelling "asshole" at a motorcyclist who swerved close to her.

The civil liberties group said such profanity is protected speech under the Constitution.

"Besides being a waste of police resources, these types of citations are often used by police to 'punish' people who argue with them." Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

"We are very happy the state police will proactively address this problem."

Under the settlement, police officers will be told they can no longer ticket people who use profane words or gestures, even if they are directed at the officers.

Officers will receive mandatory training in free speech, and will be told that "obscene" does not mean profanity, indecent speech, or gestures, the ACLU said.

Police officials did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The suit stemmed from an incident in which a Luzerne County woman reported the motorcycle incident and was cited for using the profanity. The motorcyclist was also ticketed, the ACLU said.

It said the Pennsylvania police issue about 750 citations for profanity a year.

(Reporting by Jon Hurdle; Editing by Jerry Norton)