Residents of the Massachusetts town of Middlesbrough have voted to make cursing in public illegal, resulting in fines.
The locals voted 183 to 50 in favor in the proposal by the police chief to implement part of an old law in the area which will allow tickets to be given for public profanity. Officials said the move was not to clamp down on using profanities in private but simply in downtown or public areas.
Mini Duphily, a local store owner and former town selectwoman told AP “I'm really happy about it. I'm sure there's going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary."
She said that cursing in her establishment, an auto parts store, was making her clients uncomfortable. “They'll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It's just so inappropriate."
Duphily continued “I don't care what you do in private. It's in public what bothers me.”
Another local Robert Saquet described the new plan as trying to ban the seven dirty words of George Carlin, a nod to a famous sketch by the late comedian.
He said "In view of words commonly used in movies and cable TV, it's kind of hard to define exactly what is obscene."
The drastic move by the town is also being put into question by some members of the public who believe the newly enforced law infringes upon people’s First Amendment rights.
The old law would have allowed police to arrest anyone who “addresses another person with profane or obscene language" in a public place.
Speaking to the AP Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, says the US Supreme Court has already ruled that the government cannot prohibit public speech in any form, including cursing.
Middleborough, which as a population of 20,000, has had this bylaw in place since 1968. However this old law would mean bring too many cases to court.
However Segal says finding people for cursing isn’t much better. He said “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.”
Here’s the news report from WBZ-TV news in Boston: