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It's illegal to cuss?

Byline: Matt Chaney

Y'all won't believe this @#$%!

In 2017, the City of Myrtle Beach made over $22,000 dollars from fines collected from the prosecution of people who swore in public, according to the Myrtle Beach Sun News.

The city's disorderly conduct statute, which allows such fines, led to over 289 tickets being issued to profane tourists and residents, who presumably came to the area in an effort to let loose, costing them an average of $77 per ticket.

The cost of using swear words may be much higher though, as this figure does not consider any potential attorneys' fees. (A quick Google search shows an apparent high demand for disorderly conduct defense attorneys in the area).

While such citations are considered mere misdemeanors, the story raises questions on the legality of criminalizing profanity. And, based on the paltry sums involved, about why we, as media-literate readers, should care.

In response to the first question, much to the chagrin of lovers of dirty words throughout the state, it appears it is legal if the language of the law prohibits "profane fighting words," according to First Amendment attorney and law professor David Hudson Jr., of the Nashville School of Law in Tennessee. In an article, "Remember profanity isn't always protected speech," Hudson explains that, among other restrictions, lawmakers can also illegalize profanity when it's used to "stir up a crowd to immediate lawless action."

The Myrtle Beach statute, as written, prohibits profane words that "when addressed to the ordinary citizen are inherently likely to provoke violent reactions," while also prohibiting citizens from "engaging in lewd, obscene, profane, boisterous, riotous acts or conduct."

For their part, police in Myrtle Beach told the Sun News that on the grander scheme of things, the fines, which equal about 0.01 percent of the city's annual revenue, are just a way to keep people from crossing the line.

"People get excited from time to time," one officer told the newspaper. "There are limits, I think to how excited one can be and how much expressive behavior one can share with the public without infringing on somebody else's rights."

While many will do their damndest to get away with swearing when and wherever they want to, on the grander scheme of things, submitting to a law requiring a $77 fine and misdemeanor charge in exchange for public decency might just be worth it.

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Title Annotation:disorderly conduct statute, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Author:Chaney, Matt
Publication:South Carolina Lawyers Weekly
Date:Aug 29, 2018
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