Federal Judge Rules Honking in Support of Peace Protesters is Protected Speech

January 31, 2008

DETROIT -- A federal judge ruled today that the City of Ferndale’s practice of arresting peace protesters who encourage passing motorists to honk in support and ticketing motorists who honk must be stopped. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed the federal lawsuit in April 2007 on behalf of five individuals, three of whom were ticketed or arrested by Ferndale police.

“This is a wonderful victory for all people who treasure the guiding principles of the First Amendment,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. "We are delighted that the judge agrees with us holding up ‘honk’ signs and honking in support of sidewalk protests is a time honored tradition that should be respected by Ferndale.”

 Reading her opinion from the bench, Judge Denise Page Hood concluded that the protesters signs and honking were a form of protected political speech. Citing that no accidents have occurred in the 5 years since the vigils began, Judge Hood stated that the city failed to prove that preventing protesters from holding signs that encouraged honking was necessary to protect the public safety.

Every Monday evening for the past five years, peace protesters, including ACLU clients Nancy Goedert, Victor Kittila and James Grimm, have gathered at the corner of Woodward Ave. and Nine Mile Rd. holding signs opposing U.S. foreign policy. In June 2006, Ferndale began cracking down on protesters who encouraged honking and threatened the concerned citizens with possible arrests and tickets if they held such signs. Furthermore, the city issued tickets to those who have honked in support of the protesters.

To protest the Ferndale Police Department’s new no-honking policy, some protesters, including Goedert, and Kittila held up signs that read, "Police Say: Don’t Honk for Peace."  Other motorists, including ACLU clients Reverend Harry T. Cook and Brian Price honked in support of the peace vigil. As a result, Goedert and Kittila were charged with misdemeanors for holding their signs and Price was ticketed for honking in support. Price paid his $145.00 fine shortly after he was issued the ticket.

After the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild intervened, the city agreed to dismiss the charges against Kittila and Goedert. Although Ferndale acknowledged the right to display signs that say, "Police Say Don't Honk," it refused to rescind its policies of arresting protesters who hold up "Honk for Peace" signs and charging motorists with civil infractions for honking.

“I am thrilled that the judge has confirmed our right to peacefully protest the war with these signs," said Goedert, the mother of former Ferndale mayor Charles Goedert. "It just goes to show that as Americans we cannot take our rights for granted and we must stay vigilant to protect them.”

The protesters and motorists are represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Thomas F. Cavalier and Melonie L. M. Stothers of Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, P.L.L.C., ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss and Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and the National Lawyers Guild Volunteer Attorney Deborah Choly.

To read the opinion, please visit: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/honkforpeaceopinion.pdf

To read the complaint, please visit: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/honkforpeacecomplaint.pdf