A town that swears off swearing sounds like a place heavily inspired by director Marco Brambilla’s deeply underrated Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipes sci-fi actioner “Demolition Man”. In the film, a citation is automatically issued every time a person utters an inappropriate word, which ultimately becomes a running joke due to Stallone’s inability to curb his swearing. Although it may sound like a pretty goofy gimmick from an empty-headed Hollywood endeavor, something very similar is going down in the town of Middlesbrough, Massachusetts.
In an effort to get the younger generation to cut back on the amount of foul language they spout in public, officials have passed an ordinance that would issue a fine of $20 to anyone caught spewing filth around others. Middleborough passed a public profanity law in 1966, though it was rarely used due to the cost and time required to drag the offending individual into court. Instead, they decriminalized profanity and transformed it into an ordinance, which would allow police to distribute tickets the same way they issue traffic violations.
What about the ordinance encroaching on a person’s right to free speech? That’s definitely a concern, says Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “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 explained.
However, despite First Amendment concerns, several local business owners are happy with the decision. In their eyes, public profanity in the downtown area has raged out of control for far too long. Fining folks for flinging obscenities might force them to watch their mouths.
“I’m really happy about it. I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary,” Mimi Duphily, who owns an auto parts store, said in response to the vote. Regarding the perpetrators themselves, she stated, “They’ll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It’s just so inappropriate.”