The National Coalition Against Censorship has filed an amicus brief asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case of Robert Waggy, a combat veteran arrested for swearing at a Department of Veterans Affairs employee on the telephone.
In 2016, Waggy had grown desperate over the long delay in reimbursement for his medical expenses and took out his frustration on a secretary to the director of a Veterans Affairs hospital, telling her to “do your fucking job.” As a result, he was charged with violating a state telephone harassment law that prohibits using “lewd, lascivious, profane, indecent or obscene” words with intent to harass.
Many states have similar harassment statutes and the courts have thus far been divided in cases that challenged them as violations of the First Amendment. While half have struck down the laws as unconstitutional restrictions on free speech, the other half have upheld them, ruling that harassment is conduct–as opposed to speech–that can be regulated and, therefore, not protected by the First Amendment. A number of states have solved the problem by adding to their harassment laws an exemption for language that is protected by the First Amendment.
NCAC hopes that the clear conflict in the lower courts, and the arrest of a frustrated combat veteran for the use of sharp language on the phone, will persuade the Supreme Court to consider this case.