Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
Thomas Bugaj says his seized T-shirt’s message is protected political speech.
By Alison Kepner and Alissa Wisnouse
Collegian Staff Writers
A Penn State student cited last month for wearing a “Fuck Petrol” T-shirt on College Avenue says State College Police violated his free speech rights.
Police cited Thomas Bugaj, 22, on Sept. 21 for disorderly conduct and confiscated his shirt.
Bugaj (senior-sculpture) wore the homemade shirt during a Critical Mass bike rally in celebration of World Car-Free Day. His blue shirt with black lettering supported international demonstrators, particularly in Great Britain and France, where union members have been protesting high fuel costs, Bugaj said.
Although he has a driver’s license for identification purposes, Bugaj said he bikes everywhere.
“I don’t drive a car,” he said.
The shirt was a protected form of political speech, and some local lawyers and civil rights activists agree with him, Bugaj said.
Several students protested his citation during the First Amendment Festival Tuesday.
Andy Shubin, a local American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said Bugaj’s shirt — and the obscenity written on it — is protected because it was a political message.
Political speech is “the core of what’s protected by the First Amendment,” Shubin said.
Clay Calvert, assistant professor of communications and law, drew parallels between Bugaj’s case and a U.S. Supreme Court case decided almost three decades ago.
“In 1971, the United States Supreme Court, in a case called Cohen v. California, held that a man had a constitutional right to wear a jacket with the words ‘Fuck the Draft’ on it in a Los Angeles County courthouse,” Calvert said. “If one can wear that message inside a courthouse, then one can certainly wear a similarly political message outside in a public place.”
It’s sad that some government officials don’t understand the First Amendment, Calvert said.
“This is not a case of disorderly conduct — in fact, it’s not conduct at all. It is speech,” he said.
State College Police Sgt. John Wilson said he couldn’t comment on Bugaj’s case because it was still active.
Wilson said he was unsure whether or not there is a connection between Bugaj’s case and the Supreme Court case, but the justice system will prevail.
“The person charged in this is going to have his day in court,” Wilson said.
Bugaj said he has not been contacted about his court date but will plead not guilty. The fine related to the citation has yet to be determined. A judge will decide the amount, he said. Bugaj also said he plans to contact the ACLU to find a lawyer.
Courtney Kirschner, vice-president of the Penn State chapter of ACLU, called the citation “appalling.”
Although ACLU believes the Penn State community has a history of not supporting free speech, the group was shocked by Bugaj’s citation, Kirschner said.
“We think he should be apologized to,” she said.