Police: Hanging Trump effigy in Indiana protected by First Amendment

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — A life-sized effigy of President Donald Trump hanging from a tree has many people outraged, but Fort Wayne police said the homeowner is protected by the right to free speech.
Mike Cunningham, an army veteran, told Newschannel 15 that he hung a Trump doll by a noose with a Soviet Union flag in his front yard. A banner on his home also reads, “Trump is a disgrace to America and makes me ashamed I ever served.”

Chuck MacLean, a Law Professor at Indiana Tech, said this is an “interesting conundrum.” MacLean said Freedom of Speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under Article 1, Section 9, of the Indiana Constitution, permits and protects speech as long as it is not a call to “imminent lawlessness.”

“It is illegal to threaten violence against anyone… including the President of the United States,” said MacLean. “But there is a fair question as to whether the hanging effigy is such a threat or is intended to express an opinion.”

Regardless, the move could invite a visit from the Secret Service. Dominic Lombardo, who is also a law professor at Indiana Tech, said if this could be construed as a direct threat to the president, federal action may be taken.
“Typically, any action will hinge on the interview of the person doing it,” said Lombardo. “If, indeed, the Secret Service determined through the interview that the person may be some sort of direct threat to the president, it could prompt some sort of detention.”

Some neighbors are uncomfortable and said Cunningham went too far. The Oakdale Neighborhood Association said they plan to take action. MacLean said there is a possibility of speech limits in a homeowner association agreement that residents could be bound by. MacLean could not speculate what that agreement may entail.

Cunningham said he would talk with Newschannel 15 very soon about why he put the display up in his yard.

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