Tennessean Says Bumper Sticker Isn’t Obscene

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – A Tennessee man is defending his controversial bumper sticker in state court, claiming its depiction of stick figures having sex with the tagline “making my family” does not meet the narrow definition of obscenity.

Including an image of the bumper sticker on the first page of his lawsuit filed Thursday in Davidson County Chancery Court, Dustin Owens claims Nashville police were wrong to ticket him for displaying an “obscene bumper sticker” on his truck in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated 55-8-187.

“The primary question presented in this case is whether the following sticker qualifies as an ‘obscenity’ – a narrow, unprotected category of speech reserved for hardcore pornography – thereby causing it to lose the broad presumption of free-expression protection guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the complaint against the Metro Nashville Police Department.

The lawsuit continues, “Because this stick-figure cartoon does not come anywhere close to satisfying the applicable constitutional standard for obscenity, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department should be enjoined from punishing the plaintiff for displaying it.”

Owens says he was pulled over and ticketed on Feb. 10 while driving on Briley Parkway in Nashville, and the police officer ordered him to remove the cartoon and “demonstrate full compliance” within 45 days.

“To date, Mr. Owens has not complied,” his lawsuit states. “Consequently, Mr. Owens is currently living under the pain of a pending censorship order from the MNPD, and he is subject to being punished and prosecuted under penalty of law if he does not comply with it.”

Owens says his bumper sticker is not obscene and police can’t cite him for displaying it.

“The average person applying contemporary community standards would not find that Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon appeals predominantly to the prurient interest in sex. Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon does not depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct as defined by Tennessee law,” the complaint states. “Taken as whole, Mr. Owens’ stick-figure cartoon does not lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Owens seeks a court order that TCA 55-8-187 is unconstitutionally overbroad and violates his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. He is represented by Daniel Horwitz and David Hudson Jr., both of Nashville.

A police spokesperson referred Courthouse News to Metro’s legal department, which declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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