Legal expert says Punta Gorda ordinance banning obscene language is constitutional

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia
Published: Updated:
A group of protesters voiced their concern over a Punta Gorda ordinance that bans obscenity on signs and clothes. (CREDIT: WINK News)

The city of Punta Gorda is monitoring what you wear and the signs on your lawn.

Some people in Punta Gorda say the city should not be censoring them, but a legal expert who reviewed the ordinance said it is constitutional.

The ordinance does away with the F-word and anything obscene so long as it can be seen by a member of the public.

“It’s unconstitutional on its face,” said Hilary Caskey, a Charlotte County resident. “Just because you don’t like the way someone says something or the words they choose doesn’t mean you have the right to tell them they can’t use it.”

Caskey was part of a group of protesters who gathered Thursday to voice their concerns.

Some members of the Punta Gorda City Council feared this might happen.

“Every letter I’ve gotten over the last two weeks has been because we’re limiting free speech,” one council member said during a June 2 meeting.

The city declined to make anyone available for an interview but sent over a memorandum on the ordinance.

In the memo, Punta Gorda City Attorney David M. Levin writes the city defines obscene speech as “language or graphics that depict or describe sex or sexual organs in a manner appealing to, or intended to appeal to the average viewer/reader’s visceral sexual (prurient) interests, and taken as a whole, lacks any justification from a political, literary, artistic, or scientific value.”

The memo goes on to say, “accordingly, signs which are legible from any public right-of-way or within any public space which can potentially be viewed by children under the age of 17, and which contain well-recognized offensive references to excretory and sexual organs and activities, such as the ‘F-Word’ are clearly and constitutionally prohibited by the City’s new Sign Code.”

Florida Gulf Coast University legal expert Pam Seay said, in her opinion, the city is on solid ground.

“Certainly, we have a lot of freedoms of speech, and that includes signage and things like that,” Seay said. “But there are also limitations that can be imposed.”

“It’s not a matter of censorship is looking at community standards. What are the community standards for this locality … People on the street don’t have an ability to say, oh, my God, I’m going to avoid this portion of the street, I’m going to avoid this house, even crossing the street, they still are going to see this offensive message. And the ordinance goes, goes to great lengths to say this is not, we’re not looking at this for the content,” Seay added.

Seay said she predicts someone will challenge the ordinance in court.

So far, the Punta Gorda Police Department has issued nine citations since the ordinance was enacted.

To read the ordinance, visit here.

DOCUMENT: To read the memorandum from the City of Punta Gorda on the ordinance, click here.




Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.