Clay Palmer, a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, honked his car horn when he saw a policeman turn on blue flashers to pass through a red traffic light. The officer then turned the flashers off after moving through the intersection.
Palmer said officer Matthew Puglise then stopped his patrol car and issued him a ticket for honking his horn for no reason -- a violation of the city noise ordinance.
The charge was reduced to a warning Wednesday when he went before a judge who told him he acted wrongly.
"The horn blowing is not the real problem here, it's that you were trying to correct the police and they didn't need correcting," Judge Russell Bean said....
Seems to me the judge has it exactly backwards. Blowing one's horn without good reason is surely punishable -- it's s prohibited not because of the viewpoint it communicates, but because it creates unnecessary noise. And even if the police were wrong to use their flashers this way (far from clear, but irrelevant here), using one's horn to express frustration or disagreement, with the police or anyone else, is indeed unnecessary noise; the purpose of the horn is to prevent accidents, not admonish people.
But trying to correct the police ought not be punished, whether or not the judge thinks the police need correcting. If, for instance, the government does make a practice of punishing horn blowing when it is meant to express disagreement with ("correct") the police, but not when it's meant to express disagreement with other drivers, that would be an abuse of government power, and likely unconstitutional. By saying that the problem isn't the noncommunicative harm (needless noise) but the disrespectful communication (trying to correct the police), the judge is making a pretty serious mistake.
Thanks to reader David Alan Rassin for the pointer.