How does a Giant Middle Finger Statue Weaponize Freedom of Speech?

In the town of Westford, Vermont there stands a giant middle finger statue. The question is, why is it there and why hasn’t anybody taken it down? There is only one good answer: Freedom of Speech.  



You see when the City council of Westford tells people like Ted Pelkey that they can’t build new garages, they then do things drastically. So here is the scoop. Apparently, as the story goes, Pelkey has been trying to acquire a building permit for his commercial garage. This battle has been going for…oh, a little over a decade.  Each time Pelkey makes a proposal, the city council strikes him down.  Their citations run something along the lines of “no good reasons.”  

Ted Pelkey, however, isn’t the type to turn his tail between his legs.  People like him are principled, they are goal setters and have hard-headedness about them that think outside the box.  Instead of going to the city council again and getting rejected, he decides to hit them with his freedom of speech and he hit them hard.

Pelkey fights the law in a different way.  By using his freedom of speech he was able to champion his statement through the use of public art.  He did this by commissioning one of the town’s local wood sculptors to carve a magnificent statue of a middle finger out of a 700-pound block of solid pine.  After that, they hoisted it onto a 16-foot pole complete with a light to shine on it during the night.

Freedom of Speech Triumphs through public art

The whole project only cost $4000.  According to a statement that Pelkey made on NBC5, he said it was worth it in the end.

“I’m fed up and it was time to do something,”

The garage would have helped Pelkey, who works cleaning spools for a monofilament line company. On the side, though, Pelkey and his son do Truck repair.

“It’s a low impact thing,” Pelkey told The Burlington Free Press. “We have such little traffic you’d wonder if we were open.”

The reason that the city council states for not giving him his garage is due to their concern for security lights which are no different from those that are used on houses. In fact, the garage would be situated somewhere on an 11-acre lot.  It wouldn’t have been a problem for anyone.

  Since public-art is protected under our freedom of speech it makes the giant middle finger very hard to take down.  But nobody, besides city council, is really complaining.

giant middle finger statue freedom of speech
image courtesy of Ted Pelkey

“I think it’s beautiful,” one man told NBC. “I wish I had one.”

The town council can’t make Pelkey take this one down.  Since it’s not a billboard, which is illegal in Vermont, it’s considered public art and thus sharply protected under Pelkeys first amendment right to free speech.


Written by Emilie Wasser

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