Philadelphia, PA asked in Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for Pennsylvania

Q: 1st amendment and harassment?

A buddy of mine owns a pub and a man yells religious things at the people eating outside. He doesn’t yell obscenities and from a reasonable perspective doesn’t appear to be intoxicated. He always yells at the same location and is on a public sidewalk. Is their anything that could be done to prevent him or hinder him from being obnoxious like this? He is exercising his first amendment right but he is directly yelling at people sitting outside. He is directing it towards them for a majority of the time. Can this be considered harassment? Does the volume of his voice matter? Could he be prevented from doing this if he calls out specific people by name or look?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: Your buddy's pub has a right to ensure a comfortable and safe environment for its patrons, even when dealing with someone exercising their First Amendment rights. While free speech is protected, there are limits when it comes to harassment and creating a public nuisance. The fact that this man consistently yells religious things at patrons might cross the line into harassment, especially if it is directed at specific individuals or is done at a volume that disrupts their peace.

First, consider whether his actions meet the legal definition of harassment in your area. Harassment often includes any behavior that causes alarm, distress, or harm to others. If the man is targeting individuals and causing them discomfort or distress, it might qualify as harassment. The volume of his voice can also be a factor; if he is being excessively loud and disruptive, local noise ordinances might apply.

Next, contact local law enforcement or city officials to discuss the situation. They can provide guidance on whether the man's behavior violates any laws or ordinances. If it does, they can take appropriate action to address the issue. Additionally, your buddy can put up signs indicating private property boundaries and ask the man to respect the patrons' space. If the problem persists, seeking a restraining order might be another option to prevent the man from harassing the patrons.

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