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. A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Let’s ignore the free speech issues in play here — although they are numerous — and ask the 3 questions I increasingly put front and center in everything I write about modern censorship efforts: (1) How do they plan to enforce it? (2) Is there really any chance of such a law being even remotely successful? (3) How onerous or intrusive will it be to attempt to do so?
We can imagine a few examples of where such a law could create serious challenges. For example, how would law enforcement officials deal with public swearing at ball games and other sporting events? And not just in the crowd but from the players. Have you ever heard Tiger Woods after he misses a close putt? Wow. He might want to avoid the next tournament in South Carolina! But how about profanities uttered in other public places, like hospitals during painful procedures? Man, you should have heard the profanities my wife was letting loose when our two kids were arriving in this world. Would have made George Carlin blush! And how about the halls of Congress? Oh my, now there is an education in sailor talk, although perhaps less so with VP Cheney departing. I’m sure that more than a few choice profanities have been tossed about down in the South Carolina statehouse at times. And there are lots of other cases where enforcement would be challenging: bars, concerts, comedy shows, political protests, etc.
Bottom line: We are talking about a lot of fines and jail time down in the Palmetto State!
Look, I’m as uncomfortable with excessive public profanity as anyone else when my kids are around. But I talk to them about it because I know it will never go away.When we are surrounded by foul-mouthed hooligans at ballgames, I frequently remind my kids that it’s not appropriate to say such things and that only “stupid people use stupid words.” Of course, Dad has been known to use his share of “stupid words” at home at times, too. My daughter recently threatened to “tell Mommy” on me when I hit my thumb with a hammer and let a choice word fly. Hey, it happens. It’s not the end of the world. We can try to change our habits and teach our kids better manners. But I doubt laws like the one South Carolina is considering will really make much of a difference.