A town sized "Swear Jar", can a city really ban swearing?

BrianD3 2012/06/12 11:00:39
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MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. – Residents in Middleborough have voted to make the foul-mouthed among them pay fines for swearing in public.

At a town meeting Monday night, residents voted 183-50 to approve a proposal from the police chief to impose a $20 fine on public profanity.

Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks.

I'm really happy about it," Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman, said after the vote. "I'm sure there's going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary."

The measure could raise questions about First Amendment rights, but state law does allow towns to enforce local laws that give police the power to arrest anyone who "addresses another person with profane or obscene language" in a public place.

Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity.

The ordinance gives police discretion over whether to ticket someone if they believe the cursing ban has been violated.

Duphily, who runs an auto parts store, is among the downtown merchants who wanted take a stand against the kind of swearing that can make customers uncomfortable.

"They'll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It's just so inappropriate," she said.

Middleborough, a town of about 20,000 residents perhaps best known for its rich cranberry bogs, has had a bylaw against public profanity since 1968. But because that bylaw essentially makes cursing a crime, it has rarely if ever been enforced, officials said, because it simply would not merit the time and expense to pursue a case through the courts.

The ordinance would decriminalize public profanity, allowing police to write tickets as they would for a traffic violation. It would also decriminalize certain types of disorderly conduct, public drinking and marijuana use, and dumping snow on a roadway.

Segal praised Middleborough for reconsidering its bylaw against public profanity, but said fining people for it isn't much better.

"Police officers who never enforced the bylaw might be tempted to issue these fines, and people might end up getting fined for constitutionally protected speech," he said.

Another local merchant, Robert Saquet, described himself as "ambivalent" about the no-swearing proposal, likening it to try to enforce a ban on the seven dirty words of George Carlin, a nod to a famous sketch by the late comedian.

"In view of words commonly used in movies and cable TV, it's kind of hard to define exactly what is obscene," said Paquet, who owns a downtown furniture store.

But Duphily said, "I don't care what you do in private. It's in public what bothers me."

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/12/swear-in-public-pay-20-f...

Read More: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/12/swear-in-publ...

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  • Marcus Clark 2012/06/13 04:28:26
    This isnt going to work
    Marcus Clark
    The new law is better than the old one, but still very difficult to enforce. They are welcome to try, though.
    For those claiming this as an imposition of government will against the people... Did you fail to read the part about the people voting it into effect 183-50?
    For those trying to claim a violation of "free speech"... go back and read the 1st Amendment. It starts out "Congress shall make no law..." This is a town, not the US Congress.
  • NoName Marcus ... 2012/06/19 15:07:39
    "For those claiming this as an imposition of government will against the people... Did you fail to read the part about the people voting it into effect 183-50? "

    Ultimately irrelevant, as it still goes against the spirit and letter of the first amendment - ordinances, bills, etc that restrict rights have shared the fate of being voted in by a majority, but ultimately being ruled illegal - that protection against tyranny of the majority.

    "For those trying to claim a violation of "free speech"... go back and read the 1st Amendment. It starts out "Congress shall make no law..." This is a town, not the US Congress."

    I don't think being too literal will win any arguments - it has been established that the amendments of the constitution apply to state governments too [and honestly, who would think that having such an extension is a bad idea?]
  • Marcus ... NoName 2012/06/19 22:21:12
    Marcus Clark
    Sounds like you need a bit more studying.
  • JanHopkins 2012/06/12 16:40:26
    What happened to free speech?
  • SarcasticB*tch 2012/06/12 15:08:14
    This isnt going to work
    i say we ban clothes.
  • Kat ♪ ~ ♪ 2012/06/12 12:51:51
    This isnt going to work
    Kat ♪ ~ ♪
    They can try, what happens when they don't have $20.00 it will cost more than that to try and enforce it.... Nanny government local edition.
  • Jackie G - Poker Playing Pa... 2012/06/12 12:40:34
    This isnt going to work
    Jackie G - Poker Playing Patriot
    They have given it a try - I doubt it can stand legally but appreciate the effort
  • Franklin 2012/06/12 12:34:19
    What happened to free speech?
    LOL- love the way freedom takes a dive when the government needs (wants) money
  • Sgt Major B 2012/06/12 12:25:35
    What happened to free speech?
    Sgt Major B
    I find it absolutely appalling that this would even be considered by a community in the same state as Lexington and Concord.

    Once again, petty tyrants are trying to force their will on a free people.
  • beach bum 2012/06/12 11:33:48
    What happened to free speech?
    beach bum
    i wonder what will they think of next...would be interesting to follow up on this one
  • Josh Robinson 2012/06/12 11:22:10
  • Kat ♪ ~ ♪ Josh Ro... 2012/06/12 12:55:51
    Kat ♪ ~ ♪
    Equally enforced, no. It says at the cops discretion. So they could target certain people / groups at will.
  • ashdragon88 2012/06/12 11:12:29
    What happened to free speech?
    First they start with "curse" words, then whats next? Shouldn't they be focusing on larger issues rather than monitoring what people are saying in the streets?
  • ray 2012/06/12 11:08:36
    Yes, they really can ban swearing
    if the ticket is for creating a public disturbance ,
    then the free speech issue can be avoided.
  • NoName ray 2012/06/18 20:25:22
    But if the only thing that gained that ticket is merely uttering a swear word, I'm sure people can find a way to show the public disturbance charge is a crock.
  • mwg0735 2012/06/12 11:02:50

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