It’s Official: Yelling Profanities In One Massachusetts Town Will Make You $20 Poorer

Citizens living in Middleborough, Mass. who are accustomed to swearing loudly in public might be picturing $20 bills sprouting wings and fairly flying from their wallets, as residents approved the police chief’s proposed fine on public profanity we heard about in May.

At a town meeting last night, the vote was 183-50 for the ban on swearing, reports MSNBC. It isn’t meant to limit or censor private conversations, say officials, but to discourage loud, coarse language used by young people used in the downtown area and public parks.

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.
[The] 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.

A local business owner says she approves, because kids swearing often turn off customers or makes them uncomfortable.

“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.

The town has had a bylaw against profanity since 1968 that made cursing a crime, which meant that it was rarely enforced. This decriminalization will allow police to write tickets just like they do for parking violations, and it’ll be up to them to decide whether or not someone deserves one.

Massachusetts town approves $20 fine for swearing in public [MSNBC]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cicadymn says:

    Fucking hell.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Hey now, that’ll be $40 you filthy mouthed miscreant!

      • MathMan aka Random Talker says:

        What words qualify as profanity? I could make the word “essence” sound like profanity if I wanted.

        • crispyduck13 says:

          Good point, did the town busybodies type of a list of fineable words? Did they then fine the people who made the list for swearing?

        • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

          Not only that, but what about non-English profanity? Most people I know who speak more than one language eventually make an effort to find out how to cuss in the other language(s).

  2. DerangedHermit says:

    That’s bullshit!

  3. Cat says:

    I assume the ACLU will fix this

    • HomerSimpson says:

      Police chief and the idiots that approved this are too busy using it to wipe with.

    • Jawaka says:

      Can the ACLU “fix” something that the town residents voted on and overwhelmingly approved?

      • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

        If it violates the Bill of Rights? Yes, it can be fixed.

      • spamtasticus says:

        Yes. This is why we are a republic and not a democracy. The majority can not screw the minority out of freedoms just because someone was able to convince them to vote them away.

      • zigziggityzoo says:

        This is a perfect example of being a REPUBLIC, not a democracy.

        The cornerstone law overrules the people in a Republic.

      • nishioka says:

        Just because the town’s residents voted on it doesn’t mean it’s constitutional.

      • Difdi says:

        Yes, they can. We’re a constitutional republic, not a pure democracy. You can’t vote people off the island in a constitutional republic.

        When someone tries anyway, the vote is rendered null and void (according to the Supreme Court) the moment someone starts the vote, not the moment someone successfully challenges it. Of course, being that test case that swears in public then refuses to pay the illegal fine takes a fair bit of courage.

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        Yes, state and local laws cannot trump constitutional rights blacks wouldn’t be allowed to vote in Mississippi and “little ladies” wouldn’t be able to vote down her in Texas.

  4. zigziggityzoo says:


  5. Coffee says:

    As an American who happens to like a lot of the Constitution, I find this kind of thing distasteful. As a human being with respect for others, I would really appreciate it if people showed a little more decency around other people’s children in public. Yes, I can call someone a fucking cum-stained jizzcock with the best of them, but I try to do so where it won’t offend others. I make an exception for you all of, course.

    • MrEvil says:

      Meh, the little cockgoblins are just going to learn the dirty words on their own and giggle incessantly any time they hear someone shout FUCK.

      Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest.

      • Coffee says:

        Yeah, I get that, but I just would rather not be the one to teach them. Just to be clear, if I have a friend who has a kid, and they swear in front of it, I don’t have a problem doing so either, but if I don’t know, I just try to be courteous.

        • Jawaka says:

          For the record I agree with you but unfortunately people would rather argue for their right to be offensive than your right to raise your kid free of vulgar language.

          • Coffee says:

            I think it’s because people treat the Constitution like it’s an immutable shield when it’s convenient to them – or people they disagree with happen to “defy” it in some way, but dismiss it as anachronistic and unwieldy when it doesn’t fit their needs. I have to admit I’m ambivalent about the issue, and I recognize that there are slippery slope worries when it comes to freedom of speech and “morally correct” language, but I also want to live in a society where people respect each other enough to not swear around strangers’ kids.

            If I get painted as a moralistic whinger for saying so, so be it.

            • frank64 says:

              I think the freedom of speech was really about political discussion. I wasn’t to allow people to swear where they wanted.

              • huadpe says:

                The 1st amendment protects ALL speech, not just political speech.

                Advertisements? Protected speech.
                Your drunk cousin spouting off at a cop? Protected speech.
                That crazy guy on the city street corner with the bible? Protected speech.

                The right to use profanity is clearly established under first amendment case law. Particularly because profanity often is a part of political speech. See, for example, Cohen v. California where a man was cited under anti-obscenity laws for wearing a jacket that said “Fuck the Draft.” which is the closest caselaw on the question at hand.

            • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

              I agree with you, but I would rather parent my child rather than the government making laws trying to tell me how to parent my child.

              If a hear a little rat bastard swearing in front of my child. I like to explain to my child the offending child does not know not to say that. I usually try to explain to my child to the cause of the foul mouth beast. Goes something like this: See little one, they have parents that burn them with cigars and lock them in cages and they hear their kidnappers, who are pretending to be their parents, use this foul language. I then proceed to tell my child, would you like to go home with that offensive child? They always say no…then I say good and I suggest you never F-ing use any of those F-ing words…cause if you F-ing do….you know what…hey…hey now…don’t cry…hey, let’s not go down that road right now…hey kids…who wants ice cream!

              Your mileage may differ using this method, but it seems to work nicely!

              • Coffee says:

                Oh, I know what you mean, and I don’t even have a kid, so I’m not spouting off because my precious snowflake heard a swear. I guess I’m just griping about the egocentrism people have when they’re speaking in public; it speaks of a complete lack of self-awareness that’s endemic in our society.

                Will legislating against swearing loudly do anything to change that? Maybe. Maybe not. I really don’t know.

                • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

                  It’s apparently teens doing this, and teens are generally very attention seeking and histrionic. Even good kids will raise their voices 3-4 notches and laugh really loud, fall down, etc… when in groups in public to get attention from others. And, no, they don’t care b/c teenagers are pretty much the most narcissistic beings in existence next to two-year-olds. My solution to situations like this is to be very passive aggressive and explain to my child very loudly that the offender is attention starved and probably neglected by their parents, and that it is sad that people need attention so badly that they behave like that in front of strangers. I then add something about them maybe forgetting to take their medication. I’m a teacher of teens though, so I am pretty brave.

          • Conformist138 says:

            It’s because that’s a right you don’t have. NO ONE has the right to a life free of things they don’t like. That’s kind of the point of the First Amendment- it’s literally a safeguard against this exact attitude. “Oh, I agree with the 1st Amendment, but you know, not if it’s something bad or icky!”

          • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

            I hate loud public cursing and certainly don’t want my kid to hear it. But, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are there for a reason. It becomes a slippery slope when you start allowing these rights to be violated even in small ways. I will say, if my teen got a ticket, they would be working to pay it off and I would not challenge it as they only go after people who yell obscenities, and I am guessing they really only will go after someone if they are being obnoxious. But,if it were me and I yelled “shit” b/c I stubbed my toe or something accidental like that, I would take it to court and be that test case.

  6. Here to ruin your groove says:

    This is awesome. Hope it spreads nationwide.

    • Duffin (Ain't This Kitty Cute?) says:

      Yes, I hope they continue to trample on people’s rights, too.

    • Costner says:

      I fail to see how the spread of unconstitutional laws is a benefit… and I surely don’t want to see the trend spread elsewhere.

      The only thing this law will accomplish is to get some lawyers involved and end up wasting the court’s time. The Constitution and SCOTUS are pretty clear on the issue – you can’t infringe upon someone’s right to free speech merely because you disagree with what they are saying or how they are saying it.

    • Jawaka says:

      I’d at least like it to spread to Connecticut.

    • BigDragon says:

      No, you don’t want it to spread nationwide. You know what happens after that, right? They ban toilet paper and have us all using 3 seashells instead (ouch!). Kissing and sex goes away too. All restaurants go out of business or get acquired by Taco Bell, Gasoline vehicles get outlawed. Burgers can only be found underground. All of this was foretold in Demolition Man.

      • Difdi says:

        Well, if all else fails, we can get enough waste paper to avoid the three seashells by telling the profanity monitor exactly what we think of it. And it’s mother, the combat boot wearing single-transistor chip.

  7. Sorta Kinda Lucky Soul says:

    Okay, I just gotta……”I told you not to use Lifebuoy”. Classic.

  8. GoldVRod says:

    You won’t be able to utter the town of Scunthorpe out loud.

    • tofupuppy says:

      “Hey buddy, where you been?” “Athol!” “WHO YOU CALLIN’ ATHOL!?”

      …and that’s $20…

  9. Duffin (Ain't This Kitty Cute?) says:

    What’s next? Taco Bell being the only restaurant?

    • Sarahlara says:

      I might have to murder death kill everybody if so.

    • BigDragon says:

      Stockpile toilet paper now! The 3 seashells are coming!

      Actually, I wouldn’t put it past politicians to set up speech recorders that print out tickets when you say a foul word. They already make tons of money on red light and speed cameras. Imagine how much they could rake in with speech machines!

    • elangomatt says:

      jeez what took so long to get the first Demolition Man reference?

  10. crispyduck13 says:

    $20? That’s gonna be one hell of a swear jar!

  11. SerenityDan says:

    Oh good, because I couldn’t figure the three sea shells out and I really need to wipe.

  12. frank64 says:

    If you put it on a t-shirt in the form of a political statement it is perfectly OK though right?

  13. dolemite says:

    “It isn’t meant to limit or censor private conversations”. Yeah, many laws aren’t meant to do many things, but they do, regardless.

  14. Shadowfire says:
  15. mediaseth says:

    When things like this happens, I pull out my “But I didn’t grow up in this state. I’m not from here” card. This region likes to vote liberally in national elections but tell everyone what is or isn’t their business on the local level. Massachusetts, in spite of legalizing gay marriage (through the courts, though), is one of the most socially conservative places I’ve been, and I’ve even been in Georgia (granted, that was Athens. It’s kind of liberal-ish there).

    I almost moved back to New York, but thankfully, I can visit often enough to take advantage of all the freedoms I don’t have here.

    Also, I don’t live in Middleboro. But, through my line of work, I’ve witnessed plenty of other bizarre and questionably legal local ordinances passed, often only with the intention of selectively enforcing them or to placate an aging population in the further flung suburbs. But even if it’s something passed with a wink and a nod to get the pitchfork mobs to back down, it’s still on the books where it shouldn’t be. Also, I’ve seen rules made just to target certain people, groups or businesses – selectively enforced. It’s sickening. Boston and its metro area need a thorough shake-up.

  16. Schildkrote says:

    “It isn’t meant to limit or censor private conversations, say officials, but to discourage loud, coarse language used by young people used in the downtown area and public parks.”

    Actually it’s meant to score some easy revenue for the municipality at the expense of anyone that the local police believes should be $20 poorer.

    Naturally, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found that young people and minorities – both of whom, conveniently, are often lacking the means to fight the fines in court – tend to have much larger and louder potty mouths than your average WASP.

    • Mighty914 says:

      I’m not sure too many people will care enough to fight a $20 fine in court.

      • shepd says:

        I would, could, and have.

        Only takes one.

        • El_Fez says:

          And this law is unlikely to stand up to the first legal challenge in the courts. So yeah, it’ll only take one time.

          Also, FUCK!

      • Schildkrote says:

        So if a cop comes up to you on the street and orders you to cough up $20 because he didn’t like what you were saying, you’d do it without complaint?

        That’s cool. It’s also how laws like this get passed in the first place. Obey authority without question because it’s just too much effort to do anything else.

      • Craige says:

        I’m pretty sure if an officer came up and wrote me a $20 ticket for swearing, I’d be about to owe a lot more than $20.

        • axhandler1 says:

          That was my first thought as well. First person who gets handed one of these tickets is gonna read it, turn to the officer, and say “Are you fucking kidding me?”

    • Difdi says:

      From the way the article states it, all the town needs to do to “prove” the charge is the word of the cop. And as we’ve seen many times in recent (and not so recent) years, cops are professional liars.

      It literally wouldn’t matter if you had never used profanity in your life. Cop walks up to you, hands you a ticket out of the blue despite you not having said a word, profane or not, and you get to pay $20. All the court will ask for, if you fight it, in the way of evidence is to ask the cop if you did it or not. One act of perjury later, and you’ll be at least $20 poorer. Or more, if the judge hits you with court costs.

  17. MattO says:

    “power to arrest anyone who “addresses another person with profane or obscene language” in a public place” – so what if you aren’t addressing anyone in particular? Can I start yelling out random profanities as long as it is not directed at anyone? I am not addressing anyone in that scenario.

  18. MrEvil says:

    Well, at least I’ll know what to do when I’m using a public Restroom in Middleborough and there’s no toilet paper in the stall. Just start swearing loudly and the TP will come to me one way or another.

    • Difdi says:

      You might get TASERed though. Happened to a woman recently for tearing up her traffic ticket.

      Actually wiping your ass with it? You might get a visit from the SWAT team.

  19. Sarahlara says:

    I thought there was always some kind of applicable law that would cover profanities. Like disorderly conduct. ??

    I remember when we had a problem with a neighbor (one of many, many problems we had with him because he was kind of dangerous), one police officer wanted to know in particular if he were shouting curse words off his balcony. But he was just shouting lyrics to his favorite country songs.

    Sofa King loud, of course.

    • Cat says:

      Where is Dr. Ned, anyway?

    • GrimJack says:

      Middleborough already had such a law – but it was a criminal offense, so it was rarely applied (tying up the courts prosecuting foul language). The change basically decriminalized it, but made it a fine-able offense (they did the same to

  20. HomerSimpson says:

    The police chief can go fuck himself.

    And kiss my ass while he’s at it.

    • pythonspam says:

      It would be worth it to say that to his face. Then hand him a couple twenties and walk away.

  21. hoi-polloi says:

    I was discussing this with someone the other day. They said they would claim Tourette’s syndrome if they lived there. I said you’d just have to defend your right to free god damn speech.

  22. samjung23 says:

    Demolition Man gets better and better over time, not to mention PROPHETIC.

  23. InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

    I have to wonder how this could be enforced if there is any sort of multi-lingual population. My cousin, for example, can swear fluently in German (seeing as she spent a good part of her life there). Even just using British slang around someone unfamiliar with it may be enough to confuse those responsible for enforcing the law (bugger off would be “coarse language”, but would it be recognized as such under this statute?).

    • oloranya says:

      I grew up one town over from Middleborough. It’s full of middle class white people. I don’t think multi-lingual cursing will be an issue unless kids learn curses in other languages just to avoid the fine.

      • Conformist138 says:

        As a teenager, nearly every kid I knew (including myself) could curse in other languages just because it was funny. Somehow, at that age, the notion of there being “dirty words” that no one could recognize as dirty struck us as incredibly amusing.

  24. pentium4borg says:
  25. Jawaka says:

    I’m for the law. I know that most here won’t agree but you just can’t count on people to respect the people around them on their own any more.

    Also keep in mind, the residents voted on this pretty overwhelmingly, it wasn’t just imposed by the local government.

    • pentium4borg says:

      You may want to take 15 seconds and review the text of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

      Constitutional rights override popular votes for a reason.

    • dolemite says:

      You can’t legislate morality. Just keep repeating it over and over again. Any time you hear a politician talking about sharing your “morals and values”, just vote for the other guy.

      • Coffee says:

        This is a non-starter. We legislate morality all the time. Why do you think polygamy is against the law? Gay marriage? Smoking marijuana?

    • msbask says:

      You’re pro-TSA, aren’t you?

  26. Kusac says:

    You are fined twenty dollars for violating the verbal morality statute.

    • BigDragon says:

      Enhance your calm, Kusac. I will always remember Demolition Man because of the “Brake! Brake! Brake now, you Mickey Mouse-piece of shit!” quote before the police car crashes into the fountain. It taught us a whole new way to use Mickey Mouse’s name.

  27. El_Fez says:

    This from the state that makes it illegal for a man to sport a goatee without it being registered and the owner carrying a special permit.

    (Then again I should talk. It’s illegal in Washington to harass Bigfoot and doing so can carry a 10,000 dollar fine: )

  28. attackgypsy says:

    Simple cursing doesn’t meet the fighting words test under Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, and therefore is protected speech.

    Justice Murphy, for the Court, wrote:

    There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting” words those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

  29. svengali84 says:

    Fine, I’ll just take my swearing to another town.

  30. AngryK9 says:

    John Spartan you are fined one credit for a violation of the Verbal Morality Statute.

  31. ZombieWoof says:


  32. SwaggeringCuban says:

    I wonder what the average age of the voters at the town meeting is…

  33. eldergias says:

    So rather than “manning up” and actually confronting these ill-mannered people face-to-face with their inappropriate behavior, people just cower in the corner and hope for a law to be instituted to help them? Grow a pair. When someone is doing something incredibly rude in public, I tell them… loudly, so that other people are made aware of my doing so. This both publicly shames the people and ensures that others witness the incident in case the other person decides to turn it into a physical altercation. Then I can use justifiable self defense and have witnesses to testify as such.

  34. Kuri says:

    This won’t stand up.

    Plus, I heard far, FAR worse in a middle school cafeteria than I ever have in public.

  35. SJPadbury says:

    Whenever I see the phrase “It isn’t meant to…” in reference to a law, I mentally translate it to “It will inevitably be used to…” and am rarely wrong, it seems.

  36. madanthony says:

    This isn’t anything new – Raritan, NJ – a tiny town of 8000 in Central NJ – passed a similar law in 1994. AFAIK, it hasn’t been struck down, but I don’t think anyone has ever been arrested for it either.

  37. Captain Obvious says:

    Somebody start selling thirts with giant cuss words on them. I would wear the shit out of one of them.

  38. Michael Bauser says:

    If I drive through town and swear at somebody, will there be a high-speed police chase, too?

  39. WraithSama says:

    It’ll be overturned the first time it gets challenged in court. State/local law cannot circumvent federal law, and the SCOTUS has already made a pro-1st Amendment ruling on a very similar case.

  40. Nicolaus99 says:

    Some bullshit. This will never survive a legal challenge.

  41. iolo says:

    People will eventually die for the freedoms we give up today.

    • HomerSimpson says:

      At least they won’t be allowed to curse while they’re being shot to death!

      Priorities, people!

  42. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    Don’t be giving my city any ideas! I can just see the Loonie Lefties in city council adopting this, just like they surprisingly voted to ban retailers from selling or giving away plastic bags. Thanks, Middleborough MA!

  43. Peter V says:

    What is consider profanity however. There’s the basics but there a bit of confusion with British Slang (Bum?) Alternate Words (Utah’s Oh My Heck or Fudge?). I don’t swear, at least what the majority might think. When I moved to a town with a main Mormon population, I heard someone say “Oh My God” and everyone was stunned. I don’t consider it profanity nor most of the people at my church (Catholic). That’s the only thing I say but I’ve learned to self-censor/stop to do around the town.

  44. stephent says:

    I wish this wasn’t completely unconstitutional.

  45. Mr.DuckSauce says:

    You Shitting me?

  46. CarlS says:

    Seems I recall a supreme Court decision which said that it is not an improper use of lanugage to give cops the finger or use the word “fuck” towards them. That being so, does this mean you only get fined if you curse at, near, or around someone other than a government official? How’s that gonna work when all one has to claim is that they were commenting on the stupidity of government?

  47. Rick Sphinx says:

    Same thing in Virginia Beach, at the ocean front/resort area.

  48. Sollus says:

    How about this for a reply to that business owner?

    God fucking forbid a grown adult feel uncomfortable.

    I’m disgusted by this. Yet another example of how people must feel coddled every day of their lives and god forbid they be offended about anything.

  49. ICherub says:

    Verbal indecency is no more protected than visual indecency. I don’t need my kids hearing drunks screaming about what they’ll f*ing do to their f*ing old-man’s **** when they find the **** he’s been *****ing. The social contract trumps “1st Amendment” no matter how sacred you think it is. Or, let’s do it this way: if you can swear in front of my kids as protected speech then I should be able to break your nose as protected speech without worrying about criminal charges or civil action. We give up our ability to self-enforce rights against each other to the government, then hog-tie the government from doing anything. No wonder society has become so acidic.

  50. RedShirt says:

    In other words, it totally violates the 1st, 10th and 14th amendments to the constitution.