You are Fined Twenty Dollars for Violation of the Verbal Morality Statute.

Creating a well-timed and well-phrased barrage of expletives has been around since the beginning of time and those who have mastered the art should be revered as national treasures (George Carlin, rest in peace). Middleborough, Massachusetts does not share this sentiment. Frustrated malcontent Mimi Duphily was fed up with young hooligans dropping the F-bomb near her auto parts store. So she did what any twat rational, intelligent human being would do- Persuade the city council to permit local police to issue fines to individuals cursing in public.

Source 1. Source 2.

The current Middleborough ordinance is based on a previous ordinance criminalizing profanity which is rarely, if ever, enforced. Profanity was bundled with a bunch of other “anti-social” behaviors that are now decriminalized. So instead of being charged with a crime, a person who “verbally accosts” someone in public will receive a $20 fine. At first blush this appears mired in abject stupidity because, well, it is. But the denizens of Middleborough are not alone. In fact, it seems states have always been trying to punish naughty words- both civilly and criminally. Typically, the government will try to stamp out profanity by slapping a fine on some poor schmuck for violating a statute or local ordinance that was enacted before women gained the right to vote and hasn’t been enforced for years if it ever was to begin with.

In 1942, the United States Supreme Court held that “fighting words”— words “which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” — are not protected by the First Amendment. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 15 U.S. 568 (1942). Then in 1971, the Nine limited Chaplinsky by explaining that wearing a jacket that said “Fuck the Draft” was a “simple public display” as opposed to a direct insult or intent to incite harm. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971). In the wake of Cohen and related cases (notably, Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576 (1969)-the flag burning case) the 1970’s through 1990s saw a smattering of cases testing Cohen with little or no success.

By and large, ordinances punishing profanity are nearly always struck down as overbroad, vague, and punishing constitutionally protected speech. See e.g., City of Baton Rouge v. Ewing, 308 So.2d 776 (La., 1975)(Motion to quash charge for using ‘indecent, vile, and profane language’ granted based on the ground that the ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment); and State v. Authelet, 120 R.I. 42, 385 A.2d 642 (R.I., 1978)(Acquittal for person convicted of profanity statute because under fighting words doctrine profanity was not directed at arresting officer). More recently, Michigan tried it in 2002 in People v. Boomer,655 N.W.2d 255 (Mich. App. 2002). A local sheriff ticketed a guy for violating a profanity statute enacted in 1897 that criminalized the use of profane language in front of women and children. The Court of Appeals threw out the conviction and overturned the law, stating that “allowing a prosecution where one utters ‘insulting’ language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction.” The court went on to note that it would be “difficult to conceive of a statute that would be more vague.”

Abject stupidity aside, the Middleborough city council’s decision is problematic not only because it is extremely vague but also because the ticketing officer is given the discretion to determine the gravity of the profanity. Does the officer’s discretion extend to loud music? “I wasn’t cussing officer; it was Jay-Z, why don’t you send him the ticket?” What about holding a sign that reads, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” (preferably in front of Mimi Duphily’s store)? The council would have done well to read Cohen ([a statute that] reflects an “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression), and Street, (“We cannot say that [burning the American Flag on a street corner] was so inherently inflammatory as to come within that small class of ‘fighting words’ which are ‘likely to provoke the average person to retaliation, and thereby cause a breach of the peace”). I am waiting on bated breath to see if this ordinance is actually enforced and I can’t help but wonder what the budget of the city attorney’s office is these days.

But the good news is that now we have a name for the fine-issuing machine in Demolition Man- let’s call it the Duphily.

21 Responses to You are Fined Twenty Dollars for Violation of the Verbal Morality Statute.

  1. Luke says:

    In Melbourne, Australia I think it costs $50. I’m moving to fucken Middleborough.

  2. blueollie says:

    What kind of &^%$#!!!ing law is that?

  3. Jess says:

    Seriously I’m bummed. I like the word fuck I like to say it often and I’ve zero patience for fake pearl clutching and fainting couches.

    BTW – hilarious update on Ken’s Popehat site on a recent post:

    ” Holy fucking shitballs inside a burning biplane careening toward the Statue of Liberty, Captain! I hope that the reporter merely got the story wrong, because if not, that’s more fucked up than a rhino raping a chinchilla while dressed up in unicorns’ undergarments.”

    Seriously – a great and appropriate use of the word fucking to describe the potential fuck up of another lawyer. I too hope the report was wrong – time and facts will tell.

  4. [...] Hilarious quotes aside, for a legal analysis and verbal judo chop to this women/law’s throat read The Legal Satyricon’s take on the matter. [...]

  5. John says:

    “Duphily?” But why? We’ve already got Dufus/Doofus.

  6. Jay Wolman says:

    I would suggest initiating a discussion on the merits of FCC vs Pacifica Foundation, reading the decision, including the appendix with the transcript of Carlin’s routine, at her store. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=438&invol=726

  7. Shawn says:

    Strongly considering taking a trip there just to say noting but expletives for a couple days, just so we can test their willingness to prosecute this…

  8. Dago says:

    I’m gonna go with a cartoon i saw a long time ago that had two guys talking at a cocktail party and one of them was saying:” Well, sure, the first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, and the second amendment gives me the right to shoot you for it.”

    I DO agree there is such a thing as “fighting words”. Let me make an extreme example but one that sheds some light on the matter: A serial child rapist that is now “out on good behaviour” comes to my door, knocks politely, and when I open shows me his extensive criminal record and then says: “First chance I get I plan to rape your daughter”. Well…that fucker has just got himself buried in my back yard.
    Similarly, I see no need to allow a bunch of idiots screaming profanity on a regular basis outside my place of business or my home. Not unless you are also ok with me going out there and smacking them in the face that is. For disturbing my peace and quiet.

    So…yeah…Giving them a fine is ridiculous and dumb, but then if people had any sense, they wouldn’t behave like idiots. Out of curiosity, would you be ok with a bunch of “youth” or “yuf” as they call them here in the UK shouting profanity endlessly outside your home? Or office for that matter?
    I’m not.

    • Beth Hutchens says:

      It appears that you may be trying to apply UK standards to US law. Allow me to clear it up a bit.

      1) The Second Amendment does not give anyone the right to shoot another person for saying something offensive. Ever.

      2) The Fighting words doctrine is a highly contentious area of law. Admittedly, I am very very far over on the side that would do away with it completely. This is because I firmly believe that words do not have the power to harm- actions do. The doctrine is addressed thoroughly in Cohen and a litany of other cases. I encourage you to read them because this is one of those instances where there really isn’t a black and white rule. Historically, this doctrine has been limited over the years and merely being offensive does not meet the standard. Your example is a bit difficult due to US sex offender registration laws and such, but it appears the inquiry would be if there was anything credible in the person’s statement. The fact pattern you provide suggests that that particular type of speech would not be Constitutionally protected. But only in that very unique set of circumstances and for reasons that go beyond the First Amendment.

      3) I not would be perfectly OK with a bunch of idiots screaming outside my office door- not because of what they were saying, but because I abhor loud voices. But a curse word has no more effect on my mood than a recipe for oatmeal cookies (the foulest of all cookies. Oatmeal??? That’s a breakfast food, not a cookie. Blasphemy, I tell you.) Anyway, I would not, however, be OK with smacking the loudmouths outside my door. Responding to words with violence is foolish because one can choose to be offended or choose not to.

      Please remember that the freedom to speak our minds is something we Americans take very seriously and hold sacred. We tend to get a bit pissed when douchebags like Mimi Duphily try to shit all over that. The First Amendment gives you the right to speak your mind-It does not give you the right to be offended. So sorry, but you can’t legislate asshole and you can’t adjudicate stupidity.

      • Dago says:

        I am quite familiar with both the first and second amendments. I DID preface my comment by explaining it was a cartoon (I thought it was obviois it was satire). I also am NOT applying UK law. I do not see that US or UK or any other country has a moral imperative on matters of law, the way I see it ethics are either universal or the very concept of ethics is meaningless. Laws (though they often do not, should be a tool to help ensure ethical behaviour). The closest I come to seeing my views espoused is in Lysander Spooner. Since you presumed to educate me by suggesting I read the US amendments let me return the favour. Read Lysander Spooner’s essay: natural law. it’s only a few pages and is the most cogent explanation of ethics and law I have ever found. It’s avaialble free online.
        Lastly, I completely and utterly disagree with you regarding words vs violence. Words can and do cause more harm than violence at times. Educate yourself on the mysery caused by LGAT scumbag gurus for example. See salty droid’s site if you need ample proof. Further, I personally am certain sometimes I would prefer a punch in the face to some of the evil shit someone can do to your mind with words alone. That is my personal choice and I do not see that your ignorant idea should have precedence over my ignorant idea. I could wear a sticker on my forhead if you like, saying: “I’m one of those dumb fucks that takes offence and shoots you because of it, so choose your words carefully.”
        As long as we agree that you get to wear one that says “I am one of those dumb people who think words don’t matter, because I want to be able to completely avoid any consequences that result from my talking utter bullshit to others. Oh and Lying is ok too.”

        Let me add one more dimension: Say the idiots screaming abuse perturb my quiet contemplation and I then go out and tell them: “Kindly bring your shouty uneducated ass elsewhere so I cannot hear it, or else I will begin smacking your stupid face.”
        Just like you argue that “one can choose to be offended or not” I would argue one can choose to have his face smacked if he chooses to remain there after fair warning.

        Freedom of speech does not, to my mind, mean freedom from consequences of said speech. Of course, this generally applies more to people who understand the concept of their word being their bond. But principles are rare when you can just shout abuse without consequence right?

        • Al says:

          Oh come on, that’s just silly. Words can’t hurt you unless you let them. You can’t say the same about a smack to the face. The only reasonable response to speech that you disagree with is more speech. If you can only refute the speech you dislike with violence, then you’re in the wrong.

          • G says:

            And I say you are a moron sir. A complete and utter moron and one who also lacks balls. Assume for a moment that you are walking down a street with your wife (assume you have one/are not gay/whatever) and assume some guy, for no reason and with no provocation starts calling your wife a stupid whore. Assume your two young children are also along, a boy and a girl (assume you had enough sperm at one point in your now shrivelled balls to produce two kids) say aged 10 and 12 or thereabouts.
            So now you just try walking faster while you mutter “just ignore him honey, it doesn’t matter it’s just words” while you speed up to get your pussified, pansy ass out of there. Your wife may not say it but you bet she feels like shit, and she doesn’t know if it’s from being humiliated by the asshole, or for having married such a wuss. your kids now know dad is also a ball-less wimp and grow up that little bit more insecure of themselves and their opinions.

            Let’s look at the alternative. You tell the guy to fuck off or get his nose broken. He persists, and you break his nose, hell, even knock a few teeth out. You get arrested. You spend a couple days in jail then there is a court case, you pay a fine and do some community service. Now…this is pretty much a worse case scenario (there is worse of course, he falls, hits his head and dies AND you get arrested and done for manslaughter…yeah…bad news…or..he has a gun/knife and kills you when you punch him…yeah…tough break …)
            but then….getting killed can also play out in the previous scenario, so let’s just go with the most likely bad outcome in each instance. Your wife might be put out by all the drama but she has no doubt how you feel about her and what you are willing to do. Your kids too.
            You know what the difference between scenario one and two is? The second guy has real friends. His relationships with men and women are based on a sense of loyalty that the guy in scenario one will never know. Neither will he know the sense of internal peace and comfort that comes from being a man instead of some metrosexualised bullshit replacement for one.

            So I say it again: Sure, I believe in free speech. I really do. You can say whatever the hell you like. But brother, you better have the balls to back it up, or you are shit out of luck if those words you speak are in my direction and happen to disturb my quiet contemplation of butterflies and happy looking clouds.

            And oh…you know what else? As long as you continue to be one of the pussified, your opinion really makes no difference, hell, if you get in my way I’ll just slap you the fuck out of my way. See how that works? You think the government is your friend? You only “respect” the laws you do because you FEAR the consequences, no other reason. And you have been TRAINED to “think” (feel) like that by those who rule you. Dissent from slavery ALWAYS involves violence. Read up on some history. Anything at all from the last million years will do.
            By the time you live in a country where you are compulsorily fondled and irradiated just to get on a plane, it’s too late. You lost your balls, your freedom to think and really even your right to be taken seriously as a human being of any worth, by anyone, long ago.

  9. Beth Hutchens says:

    Dago I am not ignorant and do not think you are, either- we simply disagree very deeply on a philosophical level. It also appears that you have completely missed my point and are speeding toward changing this from a spirited debate exploring our differences to a name calling snipe fest. Was it because I called oatmeal cookies inferior? It’s just my opinion, but they are the Justin Bieber of cookiedom and I stand by my remarks.

    • Dago says:

      I do not believe I have insulted you anymore than I did myself in the examples. but anyway, even if I called you a stupid bitch (which I didn’t) what does it matter? It’s just words right? Surely it doesn’t distract you from the points I made? Surely not given your stance! In any event, I did not insult you at all if you look at the context in which I wrote my comment. And yet you avoid answering any one of the points I made. Is this because I used colourful language? Or because you got, sorry, CHOSE to be offended at my implication (by deduction based on the examples) that your critical thinking skills are not perhaps as up to scratch as you might have thought? Let me help point them out then:
      1. You said that people “choose” to be offended. I say someone shouting profanity (or pretty much anything else unless they are screaming for help or in pain etc.) in my general vicinity disturbs my peaceful and meditative nature, thus breaching an unwritten but commonly accepted social contract of not bugging the shit out of perfect strangers for no good reason. You seem to imply and believe no consequences should befall people who act this way. I say that it should be perfectly legal to give them fair warning and then if they choose to ignore it, slapping their stupid face is perfectly acceptable. If you disagree can you explain why? On what philosophical/factual/legal or other logical basis you disagree?

  10. Beth Hutchens says:

    In the interest of full disclosure, I can assure you it is impossible to offend or even anger me with mere words. You can assume that you’ve succeeded in doing so but- meh- skip it.

    And, yes, that is exactly what I’m saying- there should be no consequences for people shouting vulgarity in public. They’re just words. I do not know of any “bugging the shit out of me” defense to assault.

    I personally disagree with the idea that mere words have the power to inspire a rational person to violence. Slapping someone in the face for being obnoxious is not a proper response because the very term “bugging the shit out of someone” is too vague and hard to define. The fact that the concept is unwritten is where the danger lies. It is far too mushy to permit assault and/or battery on another person when the triggering factor is a) not clearly defined; b) will differ from person to person; c) will vary in degrees of retaliation; and d) does not involve any kind of physical touch or imminent threat. There is always a choice to walk away / ignore it.

    Plus, it sets a very dangerous precedent to permit a violent response to mere words because, at some point, the words you say will be on the receiving end of the violence; be it from a fellow citizen -or worse- the government. I for one would much rather tolerate a bunch of loudmouth idiots if in the bargain I do not live in fear of speaking what I want, when I want, and how I want. First Amendment jurisprudence very clearly defines what those circumstances are and I think even those circumstances are too broad. I am of the opinion there should NEVER be a case when violence or even silencing is an acceptable response to words that are not a)coupled to some sort of overt action; and b) subject to a reasonableness standard-no matter how offensive one may perceive them to be. It is not reasonable to resort to violence or otherwise seek some other sort of punishment because one takes issue with the words being spoken. I simply do not believe that mere words have that power. I abhor hate speech laws and the fighting words doctrine for this very reason.

    • G says:

      You have now TWICE either not read and understood what I wrote, or simply chose to ignore it (because words don’t matter to you and apparently as a consequence neither does rational discourse) or misrepresent what I said (another common consequence of not having any consequence when you lie).
      I clearly spelt it out for you:

      1. You make shouty irritating noises for no good reason in my vicinity
      2. I GIVE YOU FAIR WARNING (see this is the part where you keep avoiding the fact you have now been WARNED there will be consequences)
      3. You either ignore my warning and then get slapped in the face, which by your own “logic” is now all on you, since (unlike me by the way, who is simply subjected to you shouting profanity outside my place of work for no good reason and on a regular basis) you WERE given a choice to choose from or…
      4. YOU make the choice to shut the fuck up and/or go make noise elsewhere out of my ears.

      That is my answer to your idea that I can “choose” to take offence or not at your shouty/noise-making/profanity, etc etc.
      And again, I spell it out, YOU can choose to modify your socially intolerable behaviour or you can get smacked in the face. Have I made it simple and personal enough now that you will not misrepresent/avoid/pretend you missed it?

      There are MANY instances where your idea fails utterly and completely and in fact, going by the now rather well-tested “broken-window” theory, by letting people NOT take any responsibility for their words, it leads down the slope of not taking any responsibility for their actions and so on. Your idea that words don’t matter is just so much horseshit. Hitler mostly just SPOKE to bunches of people. Think his words didn’t matter?

      People like you are essential in order to propagate the whole sheeple paradigm. “Say anything, truth is optional, you can say anything because it’s just words, everyone has his own “truth” ” And so on…it’s a lie, but then, that’s never stopped humans from believing absurd shit that was clearly a lie. Again, I remind you of Adolf.

      The only solace I have is that although “people” with your mindset certainly outnumber the rational thinkers and doers of this world, you will always be an inconsequential individual. Almost everything you do will merely be the result of some social manipulation done on you, of which you will be, for the most part, perennially oblivious. Also, if one of your kind ever irritates me, I can just always slap your face and be done with you, you are by and large a cowardly lot unless part of a huge mass of other unthinking beasts of similar ilk. One on one, no one with your set of “beliefs” has ever had any impact on my life, nor will they. Thank a God I don’t believe in!

  11. Jessica says:

    Beth – shit – seriously you so GET it. Thanks for the insightful posts.

  12. G says:

    As a further aside, your “detailed” list of objections above is completely invalidated by the fact that you are not actually arguing/addressing the example I made, but rather your “version” of it, where you ignored the whole fair warning thing.
    So your own comments/points are all straw-men…”bugging the shit out of” is not vague at all. If I tell you you are, then, you are. Simple. And yes it will vary from person to person, and no there is nothing wrong with that, people are unique don’t you know. And yes, I am well aware that at some time someone is likely to tell me they are about to do me violence if I persist in doing X (by my rules as defined above that is). That is fine with me. If what I am doing is so toxic, then I should be made aware of it, and if it is not toxic and the other person is, well, then one of us probably needs removing from the gene pool anyway. In a couple of generations on MY planet everyone would be polite, educated practically on matters of logic, probably armed, and very dangerous if you piss them off. Sounds like a good safe place to live to me. You sure as shit wouldn’t get a lot of crime going on there. Nor too many lies from journalists, politicians or idiots who do not understand the social value of being honest and standing by your beliefs even if it poses a physical threat to you.

  13. Beth Hutchens says:

    Sigh. No, G/Dago, just…..no.

    I thought I had made my position very clear from the beginning. It is NEVER acceptable to permit a violent response to mere words (yes, G/Dago, even with a warning) because if they are not coupled to some sort of threat and overt action, words do not have the power to do harm.

    And now you’ve resorted to personal attacks and insults against me and other commentators to bolster your platform. Called it! I win (even if you hadn’t already proved Godwin’s law)!

    Unfortunately, at this point I just can’t help you. But do keep us posted of how it plays out the first time you slap someone for irritating you or saying something unkind to your wife and shit-eaters. Better yet- pics or it didn’t happen.

    So this is what it looks like when someone chooses to walk away. If this makes me a pussy, then fine, but I can assure you if anyone ever puts his hands on me for speaking my mind, I’ll toss his ass through the nearest plate-glass window…fair warning.

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