Mass. Town Imposes Fine for Public Profanity
Using a profane word in public is now subject to a $20 fine in Middleborough, MA. The town's residents passed the law yesterday, at the urging of the police chief, by a vote of 183-50. The town has 20,000 residents.
How will it be enforced? At the discretion of the police.
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 town is promoting this as "decriminalizing" the use of profanity, since there has been a bylaw since 1968 that criminalized the use of public profanity.
Other behavior affected:
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.
Why didn't they just repeal the bylaw and leave profanity out all together?
Also interesting: The town notifies residents of the meeting by having the police chief issue a warrant "warning" them of the meeting. Scroll down to page 9 for the "decriminalization" ordinance. The proposed fines are all modest ($20 to $50) except one: the fine for marijuana use is $300.00.
A voter ID law was also on the agenda (page 13.)
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