Swear in public while in Middleborough, MA and face $20 fine

This article was originally published on Examiner.com on June 12, 2012.


Middleborough, Massachusetts was founded in 1661 under the name Nemasket. The former name used to be shared with a Native American settlement which was thought to mean ‘place of fish.’ Middleborough has many claims to fame. It was once called ‘The shoe capital of the world’ and is indeed home to one of the two remaining shoe manufacturers in the U.S., The Alden Shoe Company. The city is also the home to the national headquarters of Ocean Spray, famous for cranberries.

The city and its administrators are in the headlines for a different reason today, as the residents of Middleborough recently voted to monetarily penalize the use of profanity in public to the tune of $20 a swear. For some people having a bad moment, they very well could lose a whole paycheck if they went on a long enough tirade!

The measure was passed by a wide margin of 183 - 50, which gave the chief of police the right to start enforcing the measure as a violation, rather than a crime. Middleborough has had a bylaw on their official books since 1968 making public swearing an offense. However, the law stated that cursing in public was a crime, which made it a criminal matter. Because of this the law was rarely, if ever, enforced.

With the new stipulations in place, an officer can simply write a ticket as if they caught a person littering, or speeding. It is now no longer a crime to swear in public in Middleborough, but if one chooses to do so they have to pay money for their actions. The nuanced difference between the two scenarios is lost on many who claim it is a severe violation of their civil rights and freedom of speech.

You can expect to hear more about this experimental legal scenario when a citizen or bystander decides to challenge the constitutionality of it in court.