South Carolina Considers Law That Would Criminalize Profanity In Public Forums

from the well,-fuck dept

Slashdot points us to an immensely troubling law being proposed by a state Senator in South Carolina that would make it a felony to use profanity in a public forum, whether written or spoken (so assume the internet is included). Punishment could include fines up to $5000 or prison sentences up to 5 years in length. One would hope that others in the South Carolina legislature would never let this get anywhere, but these days you never know. Of course, such a law is ridiculously unconstitutional, and if it somehow did get passed would certainly get tossed out by the courts. But just the fact that an elected representative thinks that such a law is reasonable is pretty scary. Someone want to send him a copy of the Constitution?

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Comments on “South Carolina Considers Law That Would Criminalize Profanity In Public Forums”

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Tony (user link) says:

Re: Re: Let's kiss the first amendment goodbye

“First it will be language they disapprove of…”

You mean, like the whole Don Imus debacle?

“next it will be opinions they disapprove of.”

Take a good look around – we’re already heading that direction.

We get censored from both sides – left and right – while being told they want to protect our freedom.

Yeah, right.

A. L. Flanagan (profile) says:

Re: Re: copy sent.

The First Amendment is the only “bit” that mentions free speech. It’s all that’s needed. It’s widely considered the bedrock on which all other freedoms depend. A government which controls speech can violate any other rights it wants to — no one will ever know.

I think foreigners underestimate how seriously we take this Amendment. Any attempt to limit the speech of US citizens will be cheerfully ignored by most of them.

Chronno S. Trigger says:


Someone needs to define “public forum” and “Profanity”.

This blog is vary public, but douse my office count as public?

Will the profanity fallow the TV idea of profanity (can say “shit” but not “fuck”, or will it be more the christian version (can’t say pretty much anything)? And if it is the christian version than we can’t overlook the other religions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Definition

Yeah, that’s what would worry me here. What constitutes profanity? ‘Damn’ would have been considered a profanity 100 years ago while ‘n***er’ may not have been. Words change over time, so either this document would have to give an incredible amount of room to manoeuvre or it would be out of date within a short amount of time. Oh, I see from the linked site:

“It is unlawful for a person in a public forum or place of public accommodation wilfully and knowingly to publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available material containing words, language, or actions of a profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.”

What would they do if a court proceeding requires the used of swear words? Wouldn’t rape hearings be essentially banned under the above description? What about people otherwise legally protesting (e.g. if a book called “F**k George Bush” was banned from the state, protesting the ban would be banned also).

Yet another short-sighted set of rules that, if passed, would cause far more harm than they prevented.

(BTW, yes, I appreciate the irony of censoring myself in this post.)

Xiera says:

A couple things: first, state senator as in Columbia, SC, not Washington, D.C. I think most people realise this, but just in case.

Second, this falls under the category of “protecting the children”, which is just silly, especially in this context. From my experiences, I’d say that more minors actually use more profanity more often than adults. Furthermore, criminalising the use of profanity in public would be easier for adults to deal with than it would be for minors.

Thirdly, with respect to the Internet, where are the borders established? What if I post something on a site for a SC newspaper? What if a minor from SC reads a post of mine on a non-SC site? What if a minor from a state other than SC reads a post of mine (and I was from SC) on a non-SC site? What about domestic posters/sites versus foreign posters/sites? Clearly, SC jurisdiction would not apply in at least some (probably any) of these cases.

What about playing music in public? Do I have to listen to the censored version of music if I’m driving with my windows down?

Yeah, this one won’t pass.

Lisa says:

Re: I just submitted a comment that my 12-year-old son was recently accused of a crime for cursing- per Leon Lott

Yep, he was suspended for OTHER UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES FOR SAYING FUCK ON A BUS. When asked why profanity wasn’t checked on the form, I was informed Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott had “Made this a law.” Pass the word, this is psycho. Protecting the children? My child was just grouped with students involved in gang activities, drug possession, and liqour law violations for responding to a student who had harrassed him all year!

Xiera says:

Another thought

I’d actually be interested to see what the people at Techdirt think about constitutions in general. Most people operate under the assumption that constitutions are “dead” documents — that they were written as-are for a reason and should not be changed. Clearly, changing times calls for reconsideration of certain laws and precedents, especially when it comes to changes in technology.

What’s (actually only semi-) shocking is that constitutions don’t seem to provide much room for change. Most provide means for amendment, but most are targeted at literal interpretation, not logical adaptation. (Also surprisingly, the SC constitution allows its people to change its form of government — that’s kind of cool.)

So as a spin-off of this thread, what are others’ opinions here?

Anonymous Coward says:

What a dumbass

How are they going to decide what is profane, What is profane to one person means something completely different to another. This would be in clear vialation of the 1st amendment and this guy should get the boot from his senate seat immediately just for thinking of such a dumbass idea. I think that a petition needs to get started to get this moron on the streets where he can learn what profanity really is.

Overcast says:

So as a spin-off of this thread, what are others’ opinions here?

Just because time has changed, doesn’t mean we should re-consider our rights because of that. I think the constitution was made to be rigid for a good reason – if you leave ‘rights’ up to the power brokers of the time; they will surely take them away.

After all; why are they politicians? Why do they spend millions to get a job that pays a hundred thousand? Power – which will result in more Money – not provided directly through taxes, but by proxy. Laws that make certain stocks soar in value, projects that provide companies they have a vested ‘interest in’ with more lucrative work, etc.

Sure, technology offers an ‘expedited’ and more massive approach to something that had been around longer than man – communications, but other than being faster and more reaching – it’s the same thing; just communication between people.

But, we should continue to have the same rights. It is well within someone’s right to NOT go to a web page or tune in a TV or Radio station as much as it is someone’s right to say what they want on that same medium.

Why are people so ‘weak’ that they need the Government to ‘protect’ them for horrible curse words? That ‘idea’ is far, far more obscene to me than a couple of four letter words, personally.

As we can see now – Government has an excuse to take away some rights… now they want more and more control. Give them an inch, they take a mile everytime.

Today; they jail people for cussing on a web page. Tomorrow they jail you for speaking out against the Government or being a political enemy.

Mao says:


All Men are created equal. And by men, white, land-owning, adult men. So we have changed the literal meaning to what fits for us today. The Founding Fathers didn’t mean for non-whites, women, foreignors, and the poor to have a place in America. If they did, we wouldn’t have to amendments for racial and gender equality, etc. It would have been granted from the beginning. So we have reconsidered our rights for the past two-hundred thirty-two and a half years. Read of the right to peaceably assemble. Peaceably assemble to address the government on grievances. NOT THE RIGHT TO PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE. They added to comma to mean that we can peaceably assemble to tell the government what we have arguements about with them(the government). That’s what they meant; because to them, the British had banned that. Freedom of speech isn’t to say whatever you want whenever you want. It is to say what you want whenever you want, as long is it is appropriate to society, in a place appropriate to society. Saying curse words in front of kids was offensive then as now, as was saying curse words in church, etc. The meanings have changed over time. Everything is twistedly complex, that to you and I point A(right to vote) is rigid, but point B(blacks then, versus now with voting) is open to interpretation. So we’re getting screwed. Slowly but surely. Overcast is right. An inch equals a mile. Always has, always will. It’s just on what issues are we as a society willing to change……..

Jason says:

Re: Overcast

Words have meaning. If we ingore the meaning and intent of words and activist judges can reinterpret the constitution to mean anything they want at the time the constitution becomes worthless. What’s the point in having a procedure to change the constitution requiring super majorities of the population to agree to it if a few judges can change the constitution at will based on political ideology?

Overcast says:

Oh and for the record – Hell, they should start with their own site.

69 results for the word “hell” on

And not all are in the Context of the Heaven/Hell concept.

“Yes, and that would be the worst mistake you have ever made in your life.” You haven’t been in state government now but about a year and a half and just about as long as this Governor, and neither one of you knows what the hell you are doing.”

And this one, he even CONFIRMS it’s a BAD word, OMG!

“Senator LOURIE wants to do it on merit, but, who in Hell, I’m sorry about that bad word”

So get a clue Senator Ford and figure out who in the HELL put that up on your own web page.

Here’s another with ‘bastard’ in it:

Two with ‘Fuck’ in them


So does it matter what context it’s in or not?

I guess the law doesn’t apply to South Carolina’s OWN page, eh??

Overcast says:

Well, obviously” Fuck, Motherfucker, Bastard, Hell – are NOT, since they are on the State’s web page 🙂

I’ve heard cops say that and MUCH worse – since what they say is subject to ‘record’ – then they too can be held liable for putting profanity on ‘exhibition’?

Why do I suspect that the law will only apply when and to who they WANT it to apply?

That’s the problem with most of these laws – they won’t apply to politicians, police, elite/rich “outstanding” members of the community, or friends of police or politicians – they will ONLY apply to people they desire to control.

If they ARE in fact ‘profanity’ – the day this law goes live, I suggest someone in South Carolina chat with a lawyer and/or police about the state breaking the law there..

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Waving hands wildly

But it’s for the children! It’s to prevent terrorism! I’m doing it to protect the sanctity of marriage! I’m trying to help the common man! It’s for the benefit of small business!

Okay it’s really to distract attention from the fact that I’ve got fuck-all else to do.

When they have no goals, no priorities and lots of idle time on their hands so they invent shit to distract everyone from the fact that they’d be sleeping at their desks and drooling on their taxpayer furnished furniture.

What an asshole.

At least the real crook politicians have some sort of goal or motivation, even if it is just money and power. Those are at least understandable pursuits even if unethical.

This clown has zero excuse.

Paul Nelson says:

Sen. Ford

From Retiring Guy’s Digest.
South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston Co.) has introduced a bill that would make it a felony to use profanity, oral or written, in a public forum. You can learn the status of this bill and 76 other bills and resolutions that he has sponsored by checking his website.

Based on a sampling of his colleagues’ websites, I’d say that Sen. Ford’s bill sponsorship is on the high side. And I’ll also say, with no fear of argument, that nobody has a worse legislative record than he does. In the 2007-2008 session, he was the primary sponsor of 66 bills, none of which passed. In the 2005-2006 session, he was 0-for-40. 2003-2004? 0-for-38.

My guess is that this bill’s goin’ nowhere.

Most interesting item in his biography: arrested 73 times during civil rights movement.

unaffiliated (profile) says:

Re: Sen. Ford

I am shocked this effing guy (I was going to use the actual cuss word, but that’s been done to death here already) is a Democrat. This sounds like the kind of bullshit (OK, I couldn’t resist the temptation) that the Republicans usually put forth. Honorable guy, but he needs to get his ass out of politics.

For the record and in case anyone’s interested, I’m registered independently with No Party Affiliation.

Tony (user link) says:

Re: Re: Sen. Ford

“I am shocked this effing guy .. is a Democrat.”

Because Democrats never try to stifle free speech?

“This sounds like the kind of bullshit .. that the Republicans usually put forth.”

Which party is responsible for most hate-speech laws?

The Republicans are no better, but don’t think for a second that the Democrats don’t want to stifle your free speech. They’re just better about selling it.

Question says:

Am I the only one that gets sick of people with such a minuscule vocabulary? I will admit that I get somewhat disgusted when I go in public and hear someone that can’t speak without using profanity. Also, you can’t exactly throw the “free speech” blanket over things like this. I have just as much right to not hear those things when I go in public as you do to say them.

Lisa Blaney says:

Leon Lott is Already Enforcing This in Richland County

In Richland County, SC Sheriff Leon Lott is already enforcing the yet to be passed “law.” When my 12-year-old son recently used profanity in telling a student who was harrassing him on the bus — shut the f*** up, the transportion office wrote it up as a Level II offense. This level includes liqour law violations, drug possession, assault, gang-related activities, etc. Yes, there was a profanity option to mark, but they decided it fell into the category of “other Unlawful Activities.” My son has been admonished by me and his stepfather for a poor choice of words, but he was not inciting a riot or engaging in arson. He is just a young kid who lost his temper. The transportation office in Richland County District I was claiming the profanity law has passed. Not so! And, do you really want to throw the book at a 7th grade honors student in advanced classes who was chosen as a Duke Tip Scholar and took the SAT in January? I told my son that he might get lucky and share a cell with Michael Phelps. Meanwhile, I am wrangling with the school, district, and Sheriff’s Department to try to get an answer.

MEANWHILE, PLEASE DON’T USE PROFANITY HERE!!!! It is already being enforced . . . and it hasn’t been passed yet. Hopefully, it will not be.

maddog says:

O.K., I’m no prude, but there are some people whose vocabulary consists only of profanity. I engage in the occasional bout of colorful vocabulary, but there is a limit. I believe in freedom of expression, but if there are laws against people taking off their clothes in public or having sex in public why can’t there be laws in place to protect my children against excessive profanity? The men who wrote the Constitution would never have used such language in front of women or children and probably didn’t have the foresight to predict that casual conversation would become such a cesspool. I do think this proposed law is a bit much, but I would like something in place to prevent verbal overkill. Frankly, having to listen to someone being a potty mouth in public fucking sucks!

Jerry Myrick says:


Well, if parents can not teach children at home about the use of profanity and if they can not absorb what they hear in church ( and here is the root of the problem ) they probably dont attend. Sorry then mayby a law should be made mayby a misdemenaor. Oh, guess what,there are rules already made. Read the bible. Parents, are responsible to teach their children. Being, in the Finance and Banking and auto sales for 40 years, I have seen and heard it all. Wake up America. Jerry

richard clay (profile) says:


I find that website like Facebook can not or will not control what is written in their forums and I believe it is time action was taken if for no other reason than to deleate our ugly American image ! An added note to what I have pointed out is that only those who lack the skills to communicate correctly would hide behind the first amendment ! Just because it shows some form of ego grunt, growl , I do hope you people have enough brain power to understand !

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