Potty mouths better carry extra cash if they plan to utter any expletives on the streets and public spaces in Middleborough, Mass. Essentially creating a city-wide cuss jar, residents approved a $20 fine on public profanity at a town meeting on June 11, the Associated Press reported.
The ordinance, initially proposed by the police chief, was overwhelmingly supported with a 183-50 vote. Officials claim the ordinance is not intended to police private speech, but to discourage loud use of profanity in public from teens and young adults in particular.
With a population of about 20,000, Middleborough has outlawed public profanity since 1968, but the previous bylaw required police to process foul-mouthed offenders like criminals, a time-consuming practice that was often overlooked. The new ordinance enables officials to write tickets and collect fines as they would for other lewd acts and disorderly conduct.
Aside from the obvious possible First Amendment right violations, the whole situation is reminiscent of the corrupt community council in the movie Hot Fuzz where the village elders start killing off hoodlums and anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideal image of the perfect town – all in the name of the “greater good.”
Massachusetts state law gives local assemblies the authority to create and enforce laws against public profanity, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot prohibit free speech even if it contains profanity, the AP reported.
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