The Associated Press

Swear In Public? Pay $20 Fine In Middleborough

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.”

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  • Kzlater

    This was only one small section of the bi-law.  If you look at the town meeting warrant Article 24 it lists several fines not just for public profanity.  It contains a fine for public consumption of alcohol and obstructing the roadway with snow and ice (shoveling your snow into the street).   Do I think the fine for swearing silly and foolish, yes!  What I don’t like to see is just one tiny portion of this being reported on.

    • Tj White

      WBUR probably believes the tiny portion of Article 24 was worth reporting (above other exciting bits from the Middleborough town meeting) because of its misalignment with the first amendment. Also, they probably didn’t get any good quotes regarding misplacement of snow.

      • Iceman

        This is an example of a local government’s overreaching. Until they stop committing malfeasance they have no ethical right to impose ridiculous duties on citizens. People shovel snow into the street because snow is removed by the town from streets onto sidewalks. Did the town resolve the problem? I do not think so.

    • Bpinbopin

      There are many un intelligent criticisers but there are 183 very intelligent and wise residents of Middleborough. We in Georgia salute you and hope that a cursing in public ban will take off for towns and cities across the nation. it is about time we return to decency and morals.

  • casey

    fucked up

  • vito33

    Go ^&#@% Yourself, Middleborough!

    Guess what folks – You don’t have the right not to be offended. You may think you do… You might wish you did… But you don’t.

  • Ray

    Fuck you fuckity fucking fuckers ..go fuck yourself with a fucking metal  file

  • jefe68

    Does a law such as this violate the first amendment?
    I suppose one could say it’s public lewdness.

  • Ming Bucibei

    fraking useless idi ots!!

    Ming Bucibei

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