Mass. Town Can Fine People for Public Profanity

Don't like hearing people use profanity when walking down the street? One Massachusetts town has decided to make it easier for police to enforce a no-swearing by-law in an attempt to cut down on cussing in public.

According to Chief of Police Bruce Gates, the people of Middleborough, Mass., voted by a five-to-one margin in favor of the change at a town meeting Monday evening. A by-law against public profanity has been on the books in the town since October 1968, but because it is considered a criminal offense it has been difficult for police to enforce.

"It was too cumbersome to enforce, too time consuming on the officer's part to enforce a $20 fine," Gates told The Christian Post on Tuesday.

The town's decision last night means using swear words in public will become a civil offense and will no longer require perpetrators to go to court over such a crime. The decision was also applied to six other by-laws as well, including one involving the use of marijuana in public.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the push against public profanity in the town began with Mimi Duphily, a 63-year-old Middleborough resident. While hanging flowers on the town's street lamps on behalf of the Middleborough Beautification and Activities group, she heard a group of young people shouting the "F word" back and forth at one another.

After she told the young people to stop, she shared the problem with other civic leaders who brought the issue before Gates, who brought the issue before the town.

The Journal reports that Gates is targeting more blatant offenses, like "profane language at some attractive female walking through town," and not more understandable, or accidental, swear words.

Jason Genest, pastor of First Baptist Church North Middleboro, says he "cringes" when he hears profanity in public, especially when his three young children are with him. He is concerned, however, that some might try to use the decision as a "springboard" to take away the free speech of others.

"What's to stop them from turning around and saying 'We're going to ban you from listening to your Christian music outside?'" he said.

Peter Murdy, town resident and pastor of First Congregational Church of Middleborough, says the issue of swearing in public might be better addressed by families and not the police department.

"The larger issue ... I think, is this kind of thing is really kind of approaching the symptoms of the problem and not the roots," said Murdy.

Murdy also says it is interesting that civic leaders, not church leaders, spearheaded the campaign to make enforcement of the law easier. They likely did so out of a sense of common decency, he says, and not necessarily because they were concerned about upholding Christian values.