MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. – Residents in Middleborough voted Monday night to make the foul-mouthed pay fines for swearing in public.
At a town meeting, residents voted 183-50 to approve a proposal from the police chief to impose a $20 fine on public profanity.
Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks.
“I’m really happy about it,” said Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman. “I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary.”
Duphily, who runs an auto parts store, is among the downtown merchants who wanted take a stand against the kind of swearing that can make customers 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 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.
Middleborough, a town of about 20,000 residents perhaps best known for its rich cranberry bogs, has had a bylaw against public profanity since 1968. But that bylaw has rarely, if ever, been enforced, officials said.