ACLU Enters Federal Lawsuit To Protect Right To Controversial Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
January 23, 2009 12:00 am

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Yesterday the ACLU of Louisiana enrolled in a lawsuit filed by Johnny Duncan, aka “Johnny UnBlackWorthy,” a veteran and resident of Amite who was detained by police because they objected to a sign on his car reading “You Might be a Nigger!.” Mr. Duncan, himself an African-American, is the author of a book of political and social commentary entitled “You Might be a Nigger!,” and the sign on his car was to advertise the book.

Mr. Duncan was detained outside of an Amite restaurant, where the police told him that the sign on his car was “obscene.” When he refused to remove the sign from his car, the officers followed him, detained him by the side of the road for an hour, and issued a ticket under Louisiana’s obscenity law. Ultimately the charges under the ticket were rightly dismissed, because nothing on the sign qualifies under the definition of “obscene.”

“Johnny Duncan has the clear right to advertise his book, and to use a title for the book that may offend some but that is in no way obscene or illegal,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana. “The facts of this case show that Mr. Duncan was detained for no reason other than that the police in Amite didn’t like what he had to say. The First Amendment to our Constitution does not permit law enforcement to detain someone simply because the officers don’t like what that person has to say.”

ACLU Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann and cooperating attorney Ron Wilson have entered this case to represent Mr. Duncan. The suit, entitled “Johnny Duncan v. City of Amite, et al,” is pending at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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