A city's fine for a profane yard sign about Biden and Trump was unconstitutional, judge rules

President Joe Biden, right, and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, participate in a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a Tennessee woman has a constitutional right to post a yard sign with profane language condemning both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Julie Pereira set up a sign in her front yard saying “F--- ’Em Both 2024” — except, uncensored. The city of Lakeland, a northeast suburb of Memphis, then fined Pereira hundreds of dollars for violating its regulation against obscene content on signs.

She filed a lawsuit in June, saying she was so dissatisfied with both presidential candidates that she wanted a sign that “speaks simply and cogently for itself.”

U.S. District Judge Mark Norris in Memphis ruled Tuesday that Pereira's political sign is not obscene, and the city cannot lawfully regulate people's points of view.

“We are proud to have protected Mrs. Pereira’s right to express her political views and to have achieved a successful outcome in this important First Amendment case,” said Daniel Horwitz, Pereira’s lead attorney.

The judge's order comes after the city agreed to a settlement paying Pereira about $32,000 for her legal fees and reimbursing nearly $700 in fines.

The city's regulation prohibits signs with “statements of an obscene, indecent, or immoral character which would offend public morals or decency” and “statements, words or pictures of an obscene nature.”

Initially, Pereira censored her sign as local officials demanded by covering up one letter in the profane word, but within a week she removed the redaction. The city began fining her in January, so she covered up part of the word again to avoid further penalties, according to the lawsuit.

Pereira's lawsuit said “cuss” words are not constitutionally obscene. The lawsuit — and the judge — pointed to a 1971 Supreme Court decision that overturned the conviction of a man in California who entered a courthouse wearing a jacket with a message against the draft that included profanity.