University at Buffalo Professor Arrested for Swearing?

April 17, 2013

A video posted online Monday shows University at Buffalo adjunct professor Laura Curry being arrested after calling a pro-life display on campus "profane" and asserting to a police officer her right to say the word "fuck" in public.

John DellaContrada, UB’s assistant vice president for media relations, stated that Curry was charged with disorderly conduct and is "entitled to due process under the law." He says:

As a public university, it is a fundamental value of UB that all members of the campus community and their invited guests have a right to peacefully express their views and opinions, regardless of whether others may disagree with those expressions. This includes the right of protesters to oppose the views or opinions of others, but not in such a way as to limit or prevent the speaker’s freedom of expression or interfere with university operations. 

Of course, swearing is protected by the First Amendment—just ask Isaac Rosenbloom, or read the Supreme Court’s oft-cited opinion in Cohen v. California. So Curry’s cursing alone cannot be grounds for her arrest, even if it was directed at law enforcement. The Supreme Court made clear in Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 461 (1987), that "the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers." (For more, check out FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate’s piece on the First Amendment right to be rude to cops.)  

Contrary to DellaContrada’s statement, it’s not at all clear from the video that Curry "limit[ed] or prevent[ed]" viewers from seeing the display, or otherwise "interfere[d] with university operations." As a result, FIRE is investigating to see whether this is a case of campus censorship masquerading as keeping the peace.