The overreach, over-taxation, and over-fining by the United States government and its state and local connections are really getting out of hand lately. Remembering what you can’t do in one city but can do in another is getting quite confusing to people who leave their houses now and then. This week, people who live in Middleborough, Massachusetts have learned of yet another measure which attempts to control their behavior.
On Monday, the citizens of Middleborough voted overwhelmingly, 183-to-50, at a town meeting to approve their city’s chief of police’s proposal to fine people who swear in public. If you say a naughty word in Middleborough – and get caught – it will cost you $20.
Let’s face it, most of us know of at least one person who could lose the house and car within a year in that town. Whether it’s right or wrong, dropping the “aural bomb” now and then is simply part of some people’s vocabulary. More than that, the right to speak as one chooses is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but saying that cursing is an exception to the First Amendment is a tough sell for anyone to make – especially when you’ve got groups like the American Civil Liberties Union siding with the offenders.
While cities may create their own local laws and enforce them, they ought to write their laws with a copy of the U.S. Constitution at-hand for legal reference. With some of the laws being created these days, it’s difficult to believe that some politicians ever read it. The Constitution needs to take precedence in law-creation whether it suits local officials or not. Making a law that is wrong on every level has many disadvantages.
First, the city becomes a laughing stock to the nation when the news of the law hits the headlines. Positive PR is very important in creating economic tourism to a town. Secondly, the time and money wasted by a municipality in trying to enforce a non-enforceable law is worse than any words that could possibly cross people’s tongues in Middleborough. With little effort, the local officials could certainly find something better for the police to do with their time than writing tickets for this.
The question comes down to whether or not a person will take the time to fight such a ticket. Going to court to fight the ticket with a copy of the United States Constitution in hand, while having the page labeled “U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment” earmarked for the judge and prosecutor to read, will most certainly lead to a dismissal of the ticket. However, some may find paying the $20 ticket easier than taking a day off work and going to court. That, in contemporary civilian-speak, is known as a municipalities’ money-grab.
Even though swearing in public isn’t right, police should not have to write tickets for bad mouths as part of their duties. If a policeman wants to deal with such an incident, he has the right to do so.
When I was young – much younger than today – I was driving through a small town that I had never travelled through before. At an awkward intersection, I thought I was cut off in traffic. So, I laid on the car horn and gave the other driver a manual obscene-gesture. You know the one. Yelling cuss words, even in frustration, has never been my style. To my surprise, an elderly policeman pulled up beside me and said through his car window, “That was uncalled for, young man – especially when you are in the wrong. She had the right-of-way.”
While sitting in the center of the intersection, I quickly and defensively re-examined the situation and realized the officer was right. The lady didn’t cut me off. She had the right-of-way. By then the lady driver that I interacted with and the policeman had driven on. There was no way to apologize to the lady – or to thank the policeman for politely and firmly correcting me.
It’s been years since that incident, and I still keep my hands on my steering wheel when I’m aggravated in traffic. The incident with the policeman changed me for life. He did it by communicating with me one-on-one. He didn’t write a ticket or hit my near-nonexistent pocketbook. The positive incident gave me a much-needed improved image of authority.
Municipalities ought to quit making so many “darn” money-grabbing laws and just talk to people the way I was spoken to by the elderly cop years ago. Communication by conversation is much more effective in the long run than communication by a writing a ticket – if it’s behavior one really wants to change.
About Scott Paulson
Scott Paulson writes political news and commentary for CBS Local and Examiner.com and teaches English at a community college in the Chicago area. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.