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Massachusetts Town May Fine Residents for Cursing — Is It Fair?

Kids Ears
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

The residents of Middleborough, Massachusetts will likely be fined $20 for loud, public swearing. It’s a hot-button issue, since it may or may not infringe on free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.

Local officials met Monday night to decide whether or not to enforce the fine, which would govern loud outbursts in public domains like parks, as opposed to private or casual passing conversation.

Authorities would be able to use their discretion on whether or not to cite those who break the cursing ban with tickets. The town would be enforcing a pre-existing bylaw against cursing which has rarely been enforced due to its slippery, sticky nature.

A downtown merchant who runs an auto parts store supports the ticketing scenario, due to concern over the local children, saying, “I don’t care what you do in private. It’s in public what bothers me. Because the older people get really upset, the kids ask their mothers, ‘What did he say? What does that mean?'”

While we can certainly appreciate the local townsfolk wanting to clean up a different sort of “air pollution” in their region and to stop obnoxious people from spewing unnecessary and excessive profanity, ticketing people for cursing sounds could potentially come a little too close to violating one’s constitutional rights.

It reminds us of the old adage: “While I may not like what you say, I support your right to say it.”

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