Should Horn Honking be Protected as Free Speech?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No matter how wrong that motorist was in cutting you off in traffic, or how annoying you think your neighbor is, honking your horn is not a form of free speech, says a federal appeals court in Washington state.

The question of whether the use of a car horn could be construed as a protected right under the First Amendment originated from an argument that began over chickens. Helen Immelt of Seattle got into trouble with her neighborhood association for keeping chickens in her yard. After receiving a complaint, Immelt decided to park her car right in front of a neighbor’s house and lay on her horn for a good 10 minutes, at just before 6 a.m. Subsequent horn blasts prompted a call to local police, who arrested Immelt after she ignored warnings from officers and continued to honk away.
After losing her trial, Immelt decided to represent herself during her appeal to the Washington Court of Appeals. There, she argued that the neighborhood association’s noise ordinance was “vague, overbroad and interfered with her right to free speech.” Judge C. Kenneth Grosse didn’t see it that way, and wrote, “Horn honking which is done to annoy or harass others is not speech.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Honking Horn Not Constitutionally Protected (by Mark Rahner, Seattle Times)


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