Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Cohen (Petitioner), was convicted of maliciously and willingly disturbing the peace by wearing a jacket with his opinion of the draft on the back.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Profanity is neither obscene nor is it equivalent to “fighting words.”
Issue. Is the use of profanity a protected expression?
Held. Yes. The state may not make a simple display of profanity in a public area a criminal offense.
Dissent. This speech fell within the standard of Chaplinsky.
Discussion. If the public was confined to the area and exposed to the profanity, then the state would have a legitimate interest in protecting it. But, here the audience was free to look away if they felt offended. They were not “captives” forced to look at the jacket.