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The Puritans are back in town

Let’s do the Time Warp. The Puritans are back in charge in Massachusetts.

At least they seem to running the town of Middleborough, where you now can be ticketed for swearing in public, First Amendment be, uh, darned.

Residents of Middleborough, which is near those cranberry bogs you see in the Ocean Spray commercials, voted at a June 11 town meeting, 183-50, to approve a proposal to allow police to impose a $20 fine for swearing in public.

Apparently, there are potty-mouthed youths who yell R- and X-rated insults at each other in the downtown area and in public parks, reported the Associated Press. The new ordinance is aimed at them. It’s worth noting that there are about 20,000 residents of Middleborough. Only 183 seemed to think this was a problem, but they showed up at the town meeting.

Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity.

And Middleborough actually had an oft-ignored bylaw against profanity. Now it’s no longer a crime, just a ticketable offense.

“Police officers who never enforced the bylaw might be tempted to issue these fines, and people might end up getting fined for constitutionally protected speech,” Segal said.

Mr. Segal might want to sit around on a park bench in Middleborough to find a test client. Smart money says this one won’t – and shouldn’t – pass muster.

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