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$20 Fine for Swearing in Middleborough

MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. (WGGB) — Residents in Middleborough voted last night to make potty mouths pay up for swearing in public.

The vote was 183-50 in favor of a new rule proposed by the chief of police that will have people pay a $20 fine for swearing in public.

Middleborough officials say the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations. Instead, it’s purpose is to crack down on teenagers and young people who constantly use profanity in public parks and in the downtown area.

Those in favor of the proposal include downtown store owners like Mimi Duphily.

“They’ll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It’s just so inappropriate,” she said.

This new measure could raise questions about free speech rights even though state law does allow towns to enforce local laws that allow police to arrest anyone who uses profane or obscene language toward another person in a public place.

Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity.

Segal praised Middleborough for reconsidering its bylaw against swearing in public, but realizes the difficulties implementing it.

“Police officers who never enforced the bylaw might be tempted to issue these fines, and people might end up getting fined for constitutionally protected speech,” he said.

The new fine will allow police to write tickets for swearing as they would for a traffic violation.


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