I was in the gym the other day, when I heard, quite loudly, a group of people who were having a discussion. The F-word played a loud — and prominent — part in their conversation, and they quite blatantly didn’t care who heard them. Similarly, I was in a drugstore not too long ago, when another customer started complaining to the other customers in line about the lack of service. He also, quite loudly, dropped the F-bomb to all of us. It occurred to me (and not for the first time): Remember, not so long ago, when people spoke in hushed tones when they swore in a public place – if they swore at all?
Well, the Town of Middleborough, Massachusetts has had enough, and decided to do something about it. And I couldn’t agree more. A citizen activist in that town approached a group of similarly concerned residents on the issue of the seeming explosion in the use of profanity, vulgarity and expletives in public. This group then approached the local business association on the issue, and soon a coalition of similarly-minded people discussed the matter with the local police chief. The chief brought a proposal to Town Meeting for debate and vote on a local bylaw that would allow police to impose a $20 fine for cursing aloud in public. People in violation of this proposal are defined in the proposed bylaw as those who “accost or address another person with profane or obscene language in a street.”
Before the American Civil Liberties Union has a chance to jump in with arms flailing, programatically predicting the end of “free speech” in this country, they should read the above definition: This local measure would not result in the “speech police” roaming the streets with fines in hand. You can banish images of baton-wielding police, trained Taliban-like to terrorize anyone found to curse in public. If you crush your thumb in your car door and curse to yourself, no one is going to leap on you.