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Cussing Will Cost You in One Northeastern Town

A store owner in the Massachusetts town of Middleborough says she’s “really happy” that residents have voted to impose fines for swearing in public.

During a town meeting last night, residents approved a proposal from the police chief for a $20 fine for the foul-mouthed language.

Mimi Duphily says she and other downtown merchants wanted to take a stand against the kind of language that can make customers uncomfortable. She says young people “sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language.”

Middleborough has had a bylaw against public profanity since 1968. But it’s rarely been enforced, because officials say it wouldn’t be worth the time and expense to pursue a case through the courts.

The new ordinance decriminalizes it, allowing police to write tickets as they would for a traffic violation.

It could raise questions about First Amendment rights. The legal director for the state ACLU says the Supreme Court has ruled that the government can’t prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity.

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