ACLU says Pennsylvania police cite hundreds for cursing
By Mary Claire Dale
Updated: 05/12/2010 12:22:18 PM CDT
PHILADELPHIA — Free-speech lawsuits being filed today accuse Pennsylvania State Police of wrongly charging hundreds of people with disorderly conduct for swearing.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyers say they reviewed 770 such citations issued by state police in a recent one-year span and found that most of them involve profanities and other legal, nonobscene speech.
The ACLU plaintiffs are a pizza delivery driver cited for cursing at an officer over a parking ticket and a Luzerne County woman cited for hurling a derogatory name at a motorcylist who swerved at her.
The statute carries a possible 90-day jail term and $300 fine. The woman says she paid $1,500 to fight the ticket.
A state police spokeswoman says the agency had no immediate response.
The story probably oversimplifies the issue. At least in Minnesota, there is no law I know of that specifically prohibits cursing. There are parts of disorderly conduct laws that prohibit speech intended to provoke or alarm others, and such incidents would be evaluated subjectively by a prosecutor and judge to determine if they would be considered unreasonable.
The question is this: even allowing for free speech, is there a place for the law to prohibit people from engaging in public speech that is so abusive or offensive to another that it should be stopped by legal action, or does anything go?