Massachusetts Town Imposes $20 Fine For Swearing In Public
If you happen to be passing through the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, you better watch what you say:
A Massachusetts town is crying foul on residents with dirty mouths.
Middleborough, a town of about 20,000 residents in the southeastern corner of the state, voted 183-50 on Monday to empower police officers to issue a $20 fine for cursing in public,The Associated Press reported. As there’s no official list of offending words, tickets are left to the officer’s discretion, Police Chief Bruce Gates said at the town meeting.
“I don’t see an issue, we have a lot of things to do. This is not a priority,” he said, according toThe Patriot Ledger.
Gates reportedly said that tickets would not be issued when, for instance, someone swore while watching a sporting event or after dropping an ice cream cone. Instead, officials say the ordinance is meant to target teens and youths who swear loudly in public areas, the AP noted.
This is actually a step back from previous law since there had been a law on the town’s books that criminalized swearing in public, although it has apparently rarely if ever been enforced. It’s not a big deal, as the Police Chief says, but one always does have to be careful about any law that gives so much discretion to police officers. Moreover, wouldn’t the issue of “teens and youths who swear loudly in public areas” be covered under a Disorderly Conduct statute?
As for the legality of a law like this, it may potentially be considered constitutional under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, which upheld a New Hampshire against so-called “fighting words,” but that case is fairly old and there have been dozens of First Amendment cases since then that arguably limit the ability of a government authority to charge someone merely for using a bad word.