By Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is chastising state police because a trooper ticketed a driver who gave him the middle finger.

The ticket alleged public intimidation, a felony carrying up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said in a letter faxed to the Louisiana State Police on Monday. Giving the ticket was illegal retaliation for protected free speech, she said.

“They don’t have to like it but they have to respect that people have the right to do it,” she said in a telephone interview.

Her letter also noted that a prosecutor refused to charge the driver.

“The Louisiana State Police has tremendous respect for the First Amendment even when the citizens we serve choose to be vulgar and disrespectful,” Maj. Doug Cain, a state police spokesman, said in an email. “This was an unfortunate incident which will be used as a training opportunity.”

Esman said the issue arose Dec. 28, when a driver on Interstate 20 raised his middle finger while passing a parked trooper. She says the trooper pulled him over within minutes and, after conferring with other troopers who showed up, ticketed him.

Esman urged state police to ensure officers understand the full scope of the right to free speech.

She did not request any action against the trooper.

“We just want to make sure that they all know what the rules are,” Esman said.

She wouldn’t comment on whether the ACLU of Louisiana plans future action against the officer.

Her letter cited several rulings in other states finding that giving the middle finger is protected by the First Amendment.

This is the second time in recent years that the ACLU of Louisiana has challenged police when they attempted to arrest people for using the middle finger.

In 2012, the organization sued the city of Denham Springs on behalf of a woman who used Christmas lights on her roof to create the image of an extended middle finger. Police had threatened to sue Sarah Childs unless she took the lights down.

A judge handed down a temporary order allowing the display, and the two sides eventually reached an out-of-court settlement.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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