Matthew R. Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, originally wrote this guest blog for Boston.com.
Some laws are good, some are bad, and some are just @!#$! ridiculous. A new anti-swearing provision passed by the town of Middleborough falls into that last category.
On Monday night, Middleborough voted to allow police officers to write $20 tickets to enforce the town's longstanding ban on addressing anyone in public using profanity. The profanity ban is clearly unconstitutional because the Supreme Court has held that a government cannot ban public speech just because it contains profanity. In Cohen v. California, a man was arrested for disturbing the peace after he went out in public--in fact, he went to a courthouse!--wearing a jacket bearing the words "Fuck the Draft." The Supreme Court held that he had a First Amendment to wear the jacket, noting that "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric."