Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Profanity in Massachusetts

Middleborough did not recently outlaw profane speech. The bylaw prohibiting profanity has been on their books since 1968. It says:
"Whoever having arrived at the age of discretion accosts or addresses another person with profane or obscene language in a street or other public place, may be punished by a fine of not more than $20.00 dollars."
What Middleborough town meeting passed on Monday was a new bylaw making the old one easier to enforce. Article 24, section 2 Non-criminal disposition bylaw utilizes MGL c 40, s.21D  to make it easier for the police to enforce the existing rule. This says, in part, "the enforcing person..., as an alternative to initiating criminal proceedings, may give the offender a written notice to appear before the clerk of the district court..."

It is interesting to note that Massachusetts still has at least two state laws on profane or blasphemous speech.

MGL c.272 § 36.  Blasphemy
Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

and MGL c.272,  § 36A  Profane, Obscene or Impure Language or Slanderous Statements Directed at Participant or Official in Sporting Event
Whoever, having arrived at the age of sixteen years, directs any profane, obscene or impure language or slanderous statement at a participant or an official in a sporting event, shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars.