Town swears off swearing, passes $20 profanity fine

Swearing in public now carries a $20 fine in Middleborough, Mass., after residents voted in favor of the measure aimed at dissuading rowdy teenagers from ruining the downtown neighborhood with their foul mouths.

Steven Senne/File/AP
In this 2007 file photo, pedestrians stroll through downtown Middleborough, Mass. Residents voted in favor of the new $20 fine for swearing in public on June 11, 2012. 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.

Lobbing F-bombs and other curses across the leafy streets of Middleborough, Mass. is now an offense punishable by a $20 ticket.

The ordinance outlawing public swearing, approved by town residents on Monday night, was the brainchild of Mimi DuPhily, a member of the town's beautification committee.

She pushed for the law after becoming upset over loud swearing by teenagers hanging around the small town about 50 miles south of Boston.

"We're not talking about just conversation but screaming it across the street," Ms. DuPhily, a former selectman, said in an interview on Tuesday.

"Dropping F-bombs and so on. It was the same group of kids. It was very irresponsible behavior, and it was getting out of hand."

The ordinance does not specify which curses are banned, and police can decide whether to ticket offenders.

"It does not affect you if you are sitting at a café," said DuPhily. "It only affects you if you are verbally abusing someone across the street."

Legal analysts said the law could raise issues for the town under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Part of the Bill of Rights, the amendment prohibits the making of any law that abridges freedom of speech, among other things.

DuPhily said her support for the law, which passed 183-50 at the meeting, has made her an object of ridicule in the media.

"The talk radio is making hysterical fun of me. They're calling me the granny-nanny," she said. "People didn't know what to do. They felt uncomfortable walking down the street with their kids."

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