Robert Smith from Portland, Maine, has a passion for whistling. The 32-year-old believes it is a gift from God. Smith's whistling triggers a range of reactions from the people he passes on sidewalks and street corners.
Some downtown businesses and the Portland Police Department aren't amused, however. Over the past year Smith has been summonsed, arrested and taken to court for disorderly conduct for "loud whistling." Smith said he unsuccessfully argued with police that the constitutional right to free speech protects his right to whistle. "All I'm doing is expressing myself freely," he said.
"People who express themselves freely should be held in the highest regard, not the lowest regard." Trish McAllister, the city's neighbourhood prosecutor, said she disagrees that whistling is a protected form of free speech. A Portland city ordinance specifically mentions whistling as a disorderly behaviour, which carries fines ranging from $100 to $500.
People often speculate that Smith's whistling carries an ulterior motive. "I've heard that drug (dealing) thing. It doesn't faze me one bit," he said. "They just want an answer to what I do every day. They want to put an answer to something they have no answer to." Smith is now free to whistle, but only under one condition: He has to keep walking while he whistles. The requirement that he keep moving was mutually agreed upon by Smith and the city in court so he doesn't annoy businesses and passers-by in any one area.