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Mass. town weighs $20 fines for swearing in public

Jun 11 2012 - Associated Press

MIDDLEBOROUGH MA (AP) ? Officials fed up with public swearing
in one town say that forcing the potty-mouthed to pay up might be
the right antidote. Residents attending town meeting in Middle-
borough on Mon night were scheduled to vote on whether to impose
a $20 fine for public swearing. Officials insist the proposal,
offered by the town's police chief, is not intended to censor
casual or private conversations, but instead crack down on loud,
profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in
the downtown area & public parks. "They'll sit on the bench &
yell back & forth to each other with the foulest language. It's
just so inappropriate," said Mimi Duphily, a store owner & former
town selectwoman. Duphily, who runs an auto parts store, is among
the downtown merchants who think it's time to take a stand against
the kind of swearing that can make customers uncomfortable.

"I don't care what you do in private. It's in public what bothers
me," she said. "Because the older people get really upset, the
kids ask their mothers, 'What did he say? What does that mean?'"
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. The Massa-
chusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had no
immediate comment on the proposal. The proposed ordinance gives
police discretion over whether to ticket someone if they believe
the cursing ban has been violated. 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 proposed ordinance would decriminalize public profanity,
allowing police to write tickets as they would for a traffic
violation. It'd also decriminalize certain types of disorderly
conduct, public drinking & marijuana use, & dumping snow on a
roadway. Another local merchant, Robt 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 & cable TV, it's kind of hard to define
exactly what's obscene," said Paquet, who owns a downtown furni-
ture store.

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