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Massachusetts town approves $20 fine for swearing in public. A violation of the 1st Amendment???

Posted by on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM
  • 130 Replies

Massachusetts town approves $20 fine for swearing in public

Steven Senne / AP, file

Pedestrians stroll through downtown Middleborough, Mass in his file photo.

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.

Fined for free speech?
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."

The Boston Globe reported that Middleborough voters also approved a $50 fine for littering; a $50 fine for shoveling snow into the street; and a $300 fine for smoking marijuana in public.

http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/12/12178224-massachusetts-town-approves-20-fine-for-swearing-in-public

by on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Fairegirl33
by Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:16 PM
7 moms liked this

 I say fuck that....

OHgirlinCA
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Do they have a list of what words is considered swearing?  What happened to free speech?  In a town of 20,000 residents, 183 people chose this for them all.  Ridiculous!

TigOlBitties
by Bronze Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:19 PM
4 moms liked this
Hmm...this would prompt me to run onto main street with profanity-laden signs. And a megaphone.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
cammibear
by Gold Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:23 PM
10 moms liked this
Good for them! With freedom comes responsibility...
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
anxiousschk
by anxiouss on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:27 PM

I feel like this is already on the books in VA Beach.  I don't know what the fine is, but I'm pretty sure you can get one. 

I also thought that there was some sort of law against "vulgar" language in most areas, it's just not enforced.  

anxiousschk
by anxiouss on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:29 PM
1 mom liked this

Guess the other people should have exercised their right to vote. 

Quoting OHgirlinCA:

Do they have a list of what words is considered swearing?  What happened to free speech?  In a town of 20,000 residents, 183 people chose this for them all.  Ridiculous!


kam013
by Silver Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:32 PM
1 mom liked this

Soooo . . . . this is my HOME TOWN . . .  and can I say how proud I am (please note the extreme sarcasm)!!

While I do understand that they are having issues with the kids AKA "HOODLUMS" uptown cursing like no one should ever curse, I DO NOT agree with the fine.  

Currently there is not a formal list at least not one that residents have been provided with, there should be one posted on the town website.  Not sure if that is going to happen though as I was not at the meeting last night.  I had to work and DH was out of town on business.

The majority of the people that voted for this were business owners who are "supposedly" directly affected and losing business due to the "verbal assualts" by these kids.

I travel uptown several times a week and I have never witnessed a problem, but I am usually up there during the day time when the kids would be in school, not in the late afternoon hours.  So I cannot honestly speak for them, but most uptown businesses in this town close at 5pm, so I'm not sure how bad it could possibly be.

Honestly I think that the turn out was low for the vote because NO ONE believed that it would actually pass.  I'm just waiting for the first fines to be issued and see the Court fights begin.  There is talk about people actually coming here to do just that.  

My biggest issue with the whole thing is it is VERY VAGUE.  They claim that it will not affect people just holding a normal conversation, but who's to say it won't.  The wording is such that you can be fined just for swearing in public, so I can honestly see the potential for it getting carried away very quickly.  

Time will tell, but I also honestly believe this will wind up in court pretty quickly.

LoriKeet
by on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:33 PM
4 moms liked this

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of repercussions!! :o) 

JessicaN27
by Bronze Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:34 PM
3 moms liked this

Fuck this. It goes against free speech, and is a slippery slope.

OHgirlinCA
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2012 at 12:37 PM
2 moms liked this

 This wasn't placed on a ballot.  This was at a town meeting.  Let me guess.... you attend all of yours?

Quoting anxiousschk:

Guess the other people should have exercised their right to vote. 

Quoting OHgirlinCA:

Do they have a list of what words is considered swearing?  What happened to free speech?  In a town of 20,000 residents, 183 people chose this for them all.  Ridiculous!

 

 

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