Massachusetts Proposes Making Using The B-Word A Crime

If it's used 'to accost, annoy, degrade or demean' another person, that is.

a woman with her hands over her mouth
RobinHiggins / Pixabay

If it's used 'to accost, annoy, degrade or demean' another person, that is.

A Massachusetts lawmaker has proposed making the use of the “B-word” (rhymes with “itch”) a crime, The Boston Globe reports. However, using the forbidden word would only be a crime in certain circumstances.

Back in May, State Rep. Dan Hunt, a Boston Democrat, proposed a law that would criminalize the use of the word. However, that’s not to say that you could be brought before a judge for exclaiming “Son of a B*tch!” when you accidentally bang your finger with a hammer, for example, or for playing a naughty rap song. Rather, it would only be a crime if you used it from a place of antagonism or hate and toward another person and not toward the air.

“A person who uses the word ‘b*tch’ directed at another person to accost, annoy, degrade or demean the other person shall be considered to be a disorderly person in violation of this section,” the proposed law reads.

Anyone who was “victimized” by the use of the word or who witnesses the criminal use of the word could report it to the police. If convicted, the offender would be fined not more than $200 or potentially face jail time of up to six months.

The proposed law would be added to an existing list of other behavioral offenses, such as indecent exposure or disturbing the peace.

a swear jar
  Anna Frodesiak / Wikimedia Commons (GPL)

This is not the first time that a jurisdiction has tried to criminalize cussing, and indeed, at least one has even succeeded at it.

As The Virginian-Pilot reported in May, Virginia Beach outlawed cussing, as well as other unsavory behaviors such as “wearing revealing attire,” along the city’s main thoroughfare. For decades, swearing in public in the city has been punishable with a fine of up to $250. In 2017, an effort was made to decriminalize swearing in the town, but that effort failed. Still, the city conceded to business owners and removed the bright red signs throughout the city that warned visitors not to cuss, but cussing remains a crime.

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Is It Constitutional?

The issue of jurisdictions banning profanity and prosecuting its use has a contentious relationship with the courts and with the First Amendment. As The First Amendment Encyclopedia notes, in a general sense, a broad law against using profanity is likely unconstitutional. But that’s not to say that courts haven’t upheld prosecutions for bad language, at times citing a 1942 Supreme Court decision that held that so-called “fighting words” aren’t protected free speech.

Back in Massachusetts, the issue of whether or not banning the B-word will hold up to constitutional scrutiny is less of a concern than whether or not the bill will pass at all. Already Republicans in the legislature are condemning the proposed law, which a committee will take up this week.