Inflatable Rat and Freedom of Speech

An interesting decision of the New Jersey’s Supreme Court [State v. DeAngelo] pertains to use of inflatable rat as a tool of protest.

A union official displayed a 10 foot inflatable rat outside an establishment as a mark of union’s protest. Rat is considered to be symbol of unfair labour practice there. The local municipal authorities banned the use of inflatable rat but Supreme Court quickly struck down the ordinance that prevented use of all inflatable balloon signs, it was freedom of speech argument that won the case.

In India, effigy is very commonly used in demonstrations and protests. Use of very abusive language is very common almost all over country and for sometime Kerala used to lead in such practices. In many cases unions have adopted, in the past, displays that could have earned them a penalty in the courts.

I remember one case where a union displayed a skull and two bones with a pharmaceutical company’s name while protesting. I heard that the company took the union to court and won the case.

The unions’ protests often take them where the boundary lines of freedom of speech and defamation are blurred. But unlike USA, a protesting union is unable to evoke much sympathy for their members in India.