A man protesting the war in Iraq with a sign that called it "Bushit" received a ticket citing him for using obscene language in public.
The protester said Monday he would fight the citation because he found it an "extremely scary" violation of his constitutional right to freely exercise political speech.
Police Chief William Brandimore said the city attorney's office was researching whether the ticket violated any constitutional rights, even though the city attorney had advised police to issue the original ticket late last week.
"We will do the right thing," Brandimore said. "It's very possible it could be dropped."
Mike Wallschlaeger, 41, of Mosinee, erected the sign in a public square near the Marathon County Courthouse last Friday. After police received a complaint from a passer-by, an officer asked Wallschlaeger to take down the sign. The officer seized the sign and issued the citation after Wallschlaeger refused, according to police reports.
Wallschlaeger said Monday he has used the 2½-by-3-foot sign with the message "This war is Bushit" during 18 months of protesting in various places in Wausau.
"I assume they are going to wise up and drop this. This is crazy," he said. "I basically do feel like I have been harassed."
Wallschlaeger said he found it scary that police would take such a drastic step in a political protest just because someone complained.
The passer-by contacted police because his granddaughter who was with him asked how demonstrators can carry signs with a swear word, Deputy Police Chief Jeff Hardel said.
The ticket carries a $102 fine.
Donald Downs, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and author of several books on political speech, said the ticket violates Wallschlaeger's right to freely exercise political speech based on a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The public should be alarmed the government acted the way it did, in essence using the ticket claiming obscene language to harass political dissent, Downs said.
"This is not obscenity. Obscenity involves highly sexually explicit material. And it just cannot cover something like this," he said.
Wallschlaeger, a former Marine, said during earlier protests he flew a U.S. flag upside down, but that angered some people so much that he was assaulted twice. He voluntarily abandoned the flag protest, he said.
Copyright © 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press