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Massachusetts town passes no swearing ordinance, $20 fine

By Leigh Goessl     Jun 13, 2012 in World
Middleboro - Residents in a Massachusetts town voted this week to impose a $20 fine on people who use profanity in public. The new rule will allow police to write tickets for swearing.
According to, the citizens of Middleborough have embraced a new ordinance that will restrict what people can say (loudly) in public.
Residents voted 183-50 in approval to Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates' pitch to impose fines for public use of profanity.
The "no swearing" law was proposed as a way to end profanity that is often heard in public spaces, such as parks and downtown areas. It has been reported that teens and young adults frequently use swear words loudly in public spaces.
Interestingly enough, this new law decriminalizes an older one. There has been a cursing law on the books since 1968, but has been hard to enforce. Instead of treating profanity as a criminal offense, it'll now be treated as a ticketed offense.
"I'm really happy about it," said Mimi Duphily, a former town official who runs a local auto parts store and objects to public cursing. Duphily was one of the residents pushing for this law. "I'm sure there's going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary."
Duphily, 63, told Reuters in an interview, "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."
She notes this law won't affect people sitting at a publicly located table quietly having a conversation, but will affect those who shout the profanity to another, say a distance of across the street.
Some are questioning how this law might impact free speech rights. The Associated Press (courtesy of Huffington Post) reported "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."
At this time it is not clear which curse words are considered to be a ticketed offense.
Some, including Matthew R. Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, note the new law is unconstitutional. Others are apprehensive because what is considered to be profanity could be subjective and infringe upon free speech rights.
Robert Saquet, a local merchant in Middleborough, described himself as "ambivalent" about the no-swearing ordinance.
"In view of words commonly used in movies and cable TV, it's kind of hard to define exactly what is obscene," Paquet told Business Week.
The day after the law passed, it was said there was much objection and some teens are planning to ask police to list exactly which words are no longer allowed to be said.
More about Middleborough, Massachusettes, Profanity, Swearing, $20 fine
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