Is "Honking For Peace" Free Speech?

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A federal judge will decide whether honking car horns in response to anti-war protesters in Ferndale is a protected form of free speech.

The Detroit News reports U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood will hear the case of "Honk for Peace" activists on December 12th. They have sued Ferndale to challenge its honking ban for demonstrators.

Activists had gathered weekly at an intersection waving signs beginning in 2002. Police started cracking down on the honking last year.

They say it creates a distraction for motorists and could put pedestrians in harm's way.

Officials say an ordinance and state law prohibit honking unless it's alerting others to danger.

According to City Attorney Daniel Christ, the safety issue didn't arise from the peace group's actions but by similar protests by another group demonstrating for national health care, who stepped onto the street into traffic.

"That, in the police administration's view, really crystallized the issue of what had been happening at the intersection for a while, posing a public safety concern," Christ told the Detroit News.

In the meantime, the ban has not kept activists indoors.

Nancy Goedert, 74, kept vigil on Woodward Avenue, holding her sign which had been carefully amended with the words "Ferndale cops say don't" (in smaller type) ABOVE "Honk for Peace."

"We have a right to political expression. That's what honking is," Goedert, a member of the activist group Raging Grannies, told the Detroit News.

Attorney of Michael Steinberg, of the Michigan office of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed, telling the paper that honking a horn is a time-tested expression for motorists in many venues - from political events and union meetings to weddings and sporting events.

Despite the ordinance, the city is not averse to protests. Earlier this year, Ferndale's city council joined dozens of other communities in passing a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.