‘Disorderly Conduct’ Squashes Free Speech in Pennsylvania

Here’s another great example of a disorderly conduct charge being used to do stomp on free speech, this time in Pennsylvania. A guy protesting Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision not to expand Medicaid wrote in chalk on the sidewalk, “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.” The citation he received for disorderly conduct says he was arrested for writing a “derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.”


There’s no way this holds up in court, it’s just a way for the police to harass the guy.

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  • Scr… Archivist

    So it’s derogatory to note that the Governor of Pennsylvania has health insurance. Check.

    And it is not legitimate to communicate a point about the inadequate distribution of health care in that state. Check.

    That’s some real “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence” right there.

  • matty1

    “Action that served no legitimate purpose”? That’s some authoritarian shit right there, the idea that actions need to serve a purpose and that purpose has to be considered legitimate by the authorities is pretty much the exact opposite of freedom.

  • Pteryxx

    and this just after the San Diego guy’s getting prosecuted:

    Jeff Olson, a 40-year-old man from San Diego, Calif., will face jail time for charges stemming from anti-big bank messages he scrawled in water-soluble chalk outside Bank of America branches last year.

    The San Diego Reader reported Tuesday that a judge had decided to prohibit Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.”

    With that ruling, Olson must now stand trial on 13 counts of vandalism, charges that together carry a potential 13-year jail sentence and fines of up to $13,000.

    HuffPo link

    Sidewalk chalk, the new terrorism.

  • smhll

    Both of these cases are chilling. There is a petition for leniency for the chalk guy in San Diego somewhere on the internet because I remember signing it. Change.org maybe?

  • Pteryxx

    Update: the Pennsylvania citation’s apparently been withdrawn. (Guess they made a mistake charging him for disorderly conduct instead of vandalism.)

    Source (see update below)

  • John Pieret

    Heck, even state legislators in Pennsylvania don’t have the right to speak in its House of Representatives if what they are about to say is “just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law” in the opinion of other legislators.


  • eric

    it’s just a way for the police to harass the guy.

    Yep; they probably got him to stop and move away, which was the entire point of citing him.

    There really needs to be a legal avenue for punishing the government in cases like this, so that police think twice about doing it. Maybe go with the old schoolteacher approach: have the policeman write that exact phrase, in chalk, on the same bit of sidewalk, 20 times. 🙂

  • Nick Gotts

    eric@7 – that sounds like a very effective, low-cost deterrent! If there’s one thing the police hate, it’s looking ridiculous.

  • maddog1129

    I am sitting here saying, “are you kidding?” out loud, over and over.

  • yoav

    I guess it’s lucky they didn’t claim the letter O in his message was a magic circle and charged him with witchcraft.

  • grumpyoldfart

    There’s no way this holds up in court, it’s just a way for the police to harass the guy.

    Harassment is one of the perks of the job. It builds up the ego.

  • zmidponk


    Why am I suddenly thinking of this:


  • Gvlgeologist, FCD

    If there’s one thing the police hate, it’s looking ridiculous.

    Then they should stop doing it so often.