Can Shouting of Certain Words at Police In a Crowd Be Considered 'Obscene' and Indicate Lawless Behavior ?
The Commonwealth v. Pringle, 304 Pa. Super. 67, 450 A.2d 103 (Pa. Super. 1982) Court examined the United States Supreme Court precedent on whether the use of the word "fuck" under certain instances was protected as free speech. Pringle, 450 A.2d at 106 (citing Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 91 S. Ct. 1780, 29 L. Ed. 2d 284 (1970)) (where the defendant was convicted for disturbance of the peace for wearing a jacket bearing the inscription, "Fuck the Draft"); and Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105, 94 S. Ct. 326, 38 L. Ed. 2d 303 (1973) (where the defendant was convicted for a disturbance because he stated, "We'll take the fucking street later" during an antiwar demonstration)).
The Pringle Court rejected the Supreme Court cases as inapplicable to the situation before it, where the appellant had been making epithets at police officers.
This Court held that, although in other contexts, the word "fuck" had to carry a sexual context in order to be obscene, in the circumstances of the case before the court, where Pringle had called the police officers "goddamn fucking pigs", he had used "obscene" language within the context of section 5503(a)(3), without need for resort to the sexual content of the words.
The Pringle Court further concluded that, even if the words were not obscene, they were "fighting words", i.e., those words which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.
Therefore, the Pringle Court reasoned that the appellant, in shouting these words at police in a crowd as they carried out their duties, had created a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance, alarm, and the inciting of lawless behavior.