Although the fate of 'Obamacare' is the most eagerly anticipated Supreme Court decision, the justices have been deliberating other cases, as well, and today announced an 8-0 verdict against the Federal Communications Commission's rules for censoring profanity and nudity on television.
Those rules applied only to certain types of broadcasts (the original fines levied were due to expletives uttered on awards shows by those two beacons of intelligence and good taste--Nicole Richie and Cher--along with the infamous Janet Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction') and a New York appeals court had ruled against the FCC, which prompted the appeal to the Supreme Court.
It's usually a good indication of the soundness of a decision when conservative and liberal justices are in agreement, and their finding that the FCC rules were "unconstitutionally vague" sounds right to me, under the circumstances. That does not translate, however, at least in my mind, to the proposition that 'anything goes,' in terms of profanity, whether it's on TV or in public.
Which brings us to Middleborough, MA, a community that recently made headlines by voting to issue citations for outbursts of profanity in public spaces, like the town park. This was already prohibited by law (no doubt a holdover from the days when communities mistakenly believed there actually was a standard of 'common decency' which they were within their rights to protect) but it was never enforced. Middleborough proposed to decriminalize the offense, allowing officers to write $20 citations, instead, much like parking tickets.
The outcry was immediate, of course, with hysterical cries about the abrogation of our sacred First Amendment right to free speech, and people speculating darkly that cops would be lurking in the bushes, ready to spring out and write a ticket if they heard the 'f-word' spoken into a cell phone during a private conversation.
Puhleeze... No one doesn't know what the problem here really is, because who hasn't gotten caught in a hailstorm of 'f-bombs' in a public place where, theoretically, one has as many rights as the ignoramuses who are polluting the air? I remember once being at a South Carolina beach, settling down for what I thought would be a lovely afternoon but leaving after 30 minutes because some meathead nearby had exactly one adjective/adverb in his vocabulary and it was 'f***ing.' As in, 'f***ing awesome,' 'f***ing lame,' 'he's a f***ing ***hole,' and so on. Since I couldn't ignore it, I counted, and he used some variant of the f-word over FORTY times in that half-hour. He was extremely loud, so tuning him out was not practical. (And if you think I'm overly sensitive, imagine yourself with your present, past, or future toddlers in tow, with them being subjected to this.)
This is what the town of Middleborough wants to stop, and while I think they will doubtless back away from the ordinance because someone with nothing better to do will sue them, why is it that we can agree on a community's right to fine people who allow their dogs to leave steaming piles of crap in a public place, but become paranoid if any attempt is made to limit the 'right' to make public spaces hostile environments in other, equally repugnant, ways?
I know, I know...it's because it's a threat to free speech!!!
I think our founders would be horrified to know that this protection they enshrined so that citizens could criticize their government without fear of reprisal has been subverted so thoroughly that people actually get passionate about their 'rights' to pornography and foul language. Benjamin Franklin's comment that 'only a virtuous people are capable of freedom' becomes more chillingly apt with every passing year.
I am well aware that a certain toleration of this kind of boorishness is the price we pay to 'hold a line' in defense of the right to free speech, but how have we gotten to the point where no method exists to promote a civil society because of the 'right' of crude, inconsiderate people to make public spaces unbearable for anyone but the equally crude? (If you suggest saying something personally to the offender, you are truly out of touch.) How have we gotten to the point where some parents will undoubtedly sue, rather than tell their foul-mouthed little angels to have some respect for themselves and consideration for others?
I think Middleborough should just go back to its Puritan roots and put up a set of stocks, and let the citizenry pelt the pottymouths with rotten produce. I know, I know. I guess I don't really mean it, but I can dream, can't I?