D*#n! Mass Town Outlaws Swearing in Public

by dave on June 15, 2012

Downtown business owners were among some of the people who supported the Middleborough, Mass. Police Chief’s proposal to ban cursing in public. When the residents voted and the issue passed 183-50, it became apparent they weren’t the only ones.

The small town decided that reigning in the behavior of “teens and other young people,” was much more difficult than simply making it against the law to cuss. Now, anyone accused of using profanity in public can be slapped with a $20 fine.

The issue was with young people downtown and in the park using profanity loudly.

“They’ll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It’s just so inappropriate,” said Mimi Duphily a downtown store owner and former town selectwoman. “I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary.”

The new ordinance obviously raises some concerns about freedom of speech. The ACLU of Massachusetts has already questioned it, saying the town can’t infringe upon the 1st Amendment right simply because a few residents don’t like the language being used.

This isn’t the first time the small town of Middleborough tried to end cursing. They’ve had a bylaw on the books banning profanity since 1968. But it has rarely been enforced, and therefore never officially challenged. Unlike the proposed law, this older one made cursing a criminal violation.

Some are happy the new ordinance would do away with the old bylaw, but don’t believe the new one is appropriate either.

“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,” said Matthew Segal, legal director for the Massachusetts ACLU.

The report from USA Today doesn’t mention where these “young people’s” parents are or if anyone has attempted talking to the teens cursing in the park.

In many cases, loud profanity could be considered disorderly conduct. If the language truly rose to the level where it caused “inconvenience, annoyance or alarm,” and “created a hazard or physically offensive condition,” the teens could be criminally charged under Massachusetts law. And people have been charged with disorderly conduct for less.

Law enforcement officials of the town of Middleborough no doubt don’t want to take this rash step, criminalizing some loud kids in the park. But infringing on their right to free speech is another story.

If you are charged with disorderly conduct or a related crime, you might think the charges are just as unfounded as being handcuffed or fined for cursing in a public place. We may be able to put you in touch with an attorney who can help.

 

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