It Could Happen Here: Profanity police

The town of Middleborough, Mass., recently revived a ban on swearing in public after foregoing enforcement for over 40 years.

The law allows officers to use their own judgment to give a $20 fine to anyone using curse words.

According to the Boston Globe, residents voted 183-50 to change swearing from a crime – rarely enforced – to an offense worthy of a ticket.

David Hudson of the First Amendments Center expects that the law will be ruled unconstitutional because swearing is a right to free speech, except for “fighting words, true threats, or incitement to eminent lawless action.”

The exceptions to the rule are “narrow definitions,” according to Hudson, leaving unanswered questions about which words can be used as well as how they can be used.

Sergeant Benjamin Mackiewicz said, “I think we all know, in our minds, what is inappropriate.”

According to MSNBC, the idea came from a member of the town’s beautification committee, Mimi DuPhily.

DuPhily said that she called for this law because teenagers in the area were swearing loudly, and that she felt uncomfortable with their “irresponsible behavior.”

Each Friday, Raising Hale will highlight one crazy thing from the latest headlines that could happen in Connecticut. To suggest a topic, contact Zach.

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Caitlin Landers is a journalism intern at the Yankee Institute. She is a rising junior at Syracuse University studying broadcast digital journalism and international relations. She lives in Manchester.

zombie_woof says:

Political correctness run amok. DuPhily herself has empowered the offending teens by affixing a degree of importance to their bad behavior to warrant issuing tickets.

Making it an institutional function to regulate manners and empowering the police to micromanage personal behavior is more than a baby step toward totalitarianism. Middleborough Mass. is such a forward thinking town, I wonder if there’s a plan in the works for expanding their police department to include a language patrol… which pretty closely approximates Orwell’s thought police. Maybe they could apply for a block grant from the federal government to slip this bureaucratic expansion past the taxpayers for a year or two before being forced to fund the long ear of the law through property tax increases. I breathed a sigh of relief when it was decided to table discussion on red light cameras here but while apparently big brother may not be watching, he may well listening in the near future.

There can be many ways to empower people- good and bad. Putting peoples destiny in their own hands affording them a chance to make their own life path through hard work is a very good means of empowerment, but empowering mere words to offend in order to create a crisis that an ultra-sensitized population would demand protection from is not constructive. It rewards bad behavior with attention and isn’t going to deter anything because the problem is social in nature. Social issues call for social remedies, not institutional ones.