Andrea Dick is a strong supporter of former President Donald J. Trump and believes the election was stolen from him, although that claim has been completely discredited. She doesn’t like President Biden, to put it mildly.
His views are clear in the blunt slogans on banners outside his New Jersey home: “Don’t blame me / I voted for Trump” and several others who attack Mr. Biden in crass terms. Many include a word that some people find particularly objectionable, but whose use, according to the Supreme Court, could not long ago be limited to protect those it offends.
When asked by local authorities to remove several of the banners they said violated an anti-obscenity ordinance, she refused. Now she is resisting a judge’s order and vows to fight him in court on the grounds of free speech.
“This is my first amendment to the right,” she said in an interview on Monday, “and I’ll stick with that.”
In a country where political fault lines are increasingly jagged and deep, Ms Dick’s case is the latest of several such disputes to highlight the delicate balance that local authorities sometimes have to strike between defending freedom expression and address concerns about language that some residents find offensive. .
Ms Dick, 54, said she acquired the banners – which are available from Amazon and other retailers – earlier this year, but did not hang them at the Roselle Park house where she lives with her mother, or on the fence outside, until Memorial Day.
“Something must have pissed me off,” she said.
Shortly after the holiday weekend, she said, she realized that some residents of Roselle Park, noting that her house was near a school, were upset by the language on the banners and the potential for passing children to see it.
Ms Dick, whose mother Patricia Dilascio owns the house, said no children lived in the block and that no children passed by regularly to get to school.
But the city’s mayor, Joseph Signorello III, said he had received several complaints about the banners, which he passed on to the district code enforcement official. Residents of Roselle Park, a town of 14,000 about a 40-minute drive from Times Square, voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Biden in November.
“This is by no means political,” said Signorello, a Democrat. He added that officials would have taken the same action if the signs expressed their opposition to Mr. Trump using similar language. “It’s a matter of decency.”
After visiting the house, code enforcement officer Judy Mack cited Ms. Dilascio for violating a Roselle Park order that bans the display or display of obscene material in the borough.
Ms Mack said that over 12 years as a code enforcement officer at Roselle Park, she had never invoked the order before. She also said that although Mr Signorello forwarded the residents’ complaints, he did not order her to take specific action.
“I’m just doing my job,” Ms. Mack said.
Ms Dick had a few days to remove the banners, Ms Mack said. When she failed to do so, she received a summons to appear in court.
In that appearance last Thursday, Roselle Park City Court Judge Gary A. Bundy gave Ms. Dilascio, as the landlord, a week to remove three of the 10 signs posted on the property – those including the offending word – or face fines of $ 250 per day.
“There are alternative methods for the accused to express his pleasure or dissatisfaction with certain political figures in the United States,” Justice Bundy said in his ruling, noting the proximity of Ms Dick’s home to a school.
The use of vulgarity, he continued, “exposes elementary-aged children to this word, every day, as they pass the residence.”
“Freedom of speech is not just an absolute right,” he added, later noting that “the matter is not a matter of politics. It is an outright matter of language. This ordinance does not restrict political discourse. (Nj.com reported on Judge Bundy’s ruling on Friday.)
Jarrid Kantor, the Roselle Park borough attorney, applauded the judge’s ruling, saying local officials were careful not to make any problem with the political nature of Ms Dick’s banners and instead focused on potential harm to children.
“We think he got it right,” Kantor said.
But Thomas Healy, a law professor at Seton Hall University specializing in constitutional issues, disagreed.
Citing a 1971 Supreme Court decision, Cohen v. California, which was on whether the same word at issue in Ms Dick’s case was obscene, Professor Healy said the word clearly could not qualify as obscene speech in the context of banner politics.
“It’s hard to imagine a constitutionally simpler case,” he said, adding that he would be “stunned” if Judge Bundy’s ruling was upheld.
Professor Healy said he also found it troubling that the execution measure came after the mayor raised concerns about the banners to the code enforcement officer, although both said Mr. Signorello had not ordered any specific action.
“It doesn’t look good,” Professor Healy said.
Conflicts like the one involving Ms. Dick erupted this year on Long Island; in Indiana, Tennessee and Connecticut; and about a half hour drive south of Roselle Park, in Hazlet, NJ
Hazlet officials received complaints like those at Roselle Park when an owner hung a similar anti-Biden banner there, Mayor Tara Clark said.
Citing an anti-nuisance order, Ms Clark said, officials approached the owner last month and asked him to remove the offending flag, but took no action to force him to do so.
“We knew there were residents who were upset,” she said. “But we also know that freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution of the United States.”
While some people may have been unhappy that the banner could not be removed, Ms Clark said she and her colleagues in charge of Hazlet believed it was important to defend the First Amendment.
“It ended there,” she said. (The owner removed the banner last week, she said.)
As for Ms Dick, she and her mother have about two weeks to appeal Judge Bundy’s decision to New Jersey Superior Court. He said daily fines would start piling up on Thursday if the offending banners remained in place, whether or not Ms Dick and her mother chose to appeal. If they appeal, he suggested that they remove the banners pending the outcome.
On Monday, Mrs. Dick did not appear to intend to take that advice. She said she was looking for a new lawyer and was committed to seeing the case through.
“I’m not backing down,” she said.