Sometimes decisions on what to say publicly are a matter of realizing that it may not always be right to say something even though you have the right to say it. Even so, someone with a badge shouldn’t be standing over you to force that realization.
Wednesday’s Tribune reported about a downtown Scottsdale adult shop whose front window had featured clothing items emblazoned with profanities referring to sexual activity. Management of The Love Bug recently removed the items after a public protest — and warnings from police that failure to do so could result in a felony prosecution.
The display may have been protected speech under the First Amendment, and an entrepreneur is entitled to make a living. But clearly the shop owner and management disregarded public sensibilities when they allowed clothing bearing profane slogans to be displayed in their front window.
According to a police report obtained by the Tribune, the shop did strategically place stickers over a certain letter of each offending word at an officer’s request. Yet police still insisted that the management remove the items entirely, citing a vaguely written state statute terming virtually any depiction of sexuality, even nudity, as a Class 6 felony.
Covering only one letter of each profane word wasn't enough — not from a legalistic point of view, but from a common sense one. Given the disturbing dearth of common sense these day, however, it's no surprise that the law is extending its long arm into this area.
Yet it's troubling when police officers restrict expression because some people find it objectionable. Giving government too much authority over matters of taste can easily turn it into an unqualified arbiter of manners. Individuals who frequent downtown Scottsdale — as well as all citizens — retain their right to voice their displeasure through legitimate marketplace methods. The mayor, council members, chamber of commerce and the local newspaper have every right to voice their displeasure — and should.
Just because popular culture has come to resemble an open sewer in recent years doesn't mean we all have to tolerate open sewage on our city streets — in full view of passers-by, including children. We each have a right and a responsibility to demand reasonable standards of decency.
But we shouldn't always expect government to enforce them.