An Oregon man arrested for disorderly conduct did not have a free-speech right to use a bullhorn outside a department store, a state appeals court has ruled. The court determined that the law’s prohibition of “unreasonable noise” did not discriminate against speech based on content.
Allen Wesley Pucket used an electrified bullhorn outside a Fred Meyer store to preach. Upon receiving complaints, two police officers informed Pucket that he could say what he wanted to but needed to do so without the bullhorn. At this time, the officers did not arrest Pucket.
Two days later on Christmas Eve, Pucket again used the bullhorn outside the same store. One of the police officer’s wives was inside the store and called her husband. Two officers came to the scene and informed Pucket he needed to not use the bullhorn.
When he refused to stop using the bullhorn, the officers arrested him for violating an Oregon disorderly conduct law that prohibited “recklessly creat[ing] a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance and alarm by making unreasonable noise.”
The trial court convicted defendant of violating the law. The court also rejected Pucket’s free-expression argument under the First Amendment and the free-expression provision of the Oregon Constitution.
Pucket appealed, contending that his free-expression rights were violated because the officers punished him for the content of his speech, his preaching.
The Court of Appeals of Oregon affirmed the trial court and ruled against Pucket in its May 16, 2018, decision in State v. Pucket. The appeals court reasoned that the evidence in the record established that Pucket was arrested because he created too much noise, not because he preached. The court also noted that employees from multiple nearby businesses testified that Pucket was really loud.
“The state has a legitimate interest in preventing the kind of public inconvenience and annoyance that can be caused by high-volume and prolonged noise – even in otherwise busy locations,” the appeals court wrote. “Defendant was not entitled to speak for hours through a bullhorn on maximum volume in a way that annoyed members of the public merely because he did so in a setting where sounds of traffic and commerce already were present.”
The appeals court’s rationale is that Pucket was not punished for the communicative content of his speech but merely for the loud volume. People have the right to speak on public streets but they don’t have the right to use bullhorns and create an excessive amount of noise.