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Senate Bill seeks to outlaw certain speech in South Carolina

A Column by the Editor
web posted January 28, 2009
COLUMN – Though the recent cursing tirade by Fox Creek teacher John Naas caught on video was a disgusting display and is a very serious matter, it is not necessarily illegal. The punishment for Mr. Naas is in the hands of the Fox Creek Board of Directors. But that could change if State Senator Robert Ford (D-Charleston) is successful in passing a bill to make cursing a crime in South Carolina. The Bill, S56, would make it a felony to utter an unspecified list of words and would be punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, a sentence of up to five years in prison, or both. 

The Bill is currently in the Committee on Judiciary after receiving its first reading on January 13, 2009.

As written, the Bill states, “Article 3, Chapter 15, Title 16 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: "Section 16-15-370. (A) 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.” 

So much for free speech.

But this Bill goes even further. If there are children around it becomes tied to Section 16-15-395, first degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Curse when a minor is present and you just may end up a registered sex offender.

I know Mr. Naas is glad this is not the law of the land. I’m sure at least one of the words he used would be on the list of “no-no” words. However, we don’t know what Sen. Ford considers “words, language, or actions of profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature” yet.

Let’s face it, this is a ridiculous bill and it is unconstitutional by its very inception. Suppress free speech because you don’t like what it contains? That’s a slippery slope with a vertical slant.

Remember too how easily “offended” some people are and with the southern drawl being very prevalent in South Carolina a very innocent comment could land you in jail. Two locals could be talking and a visiting northerner with one or two young children in tow may overhear just a portion of your conversation in a public place and land you in jail.

“Some beaches ain’t worth my time”, Ahhhhh! Mr. Policeman, this guy said, “SOB” in front of my kids, arrest him. I sure wouldn’t want to be the one talking about a nun with a strange name who got on to you for doing something you shouldn’t have done when they walked by, “Mother Faulker just chewed me out.” Bingo, you’re a sex offender.

Let me make it clear I am not defending cursing. I am defending free speech whether I agree with it or not or whether I personally find it offensive. They have a right to say it, I have a right to disagree, and the free will to walk on by and not listen to it.

We already have a law to deal with those who continue to curse after being warned it is inappropriate in case Sen. Ford is unaware, it is called disorderly conduct. You are arrested, a small fine is assessed, your name is in the paper for being a jerk, you are embarrassed, and the world continues to turn.

Here’s an idea, maybe we should enact a law for legislators who try to pass unconstitutional or downright stupid laws and make them felons. I bet my law would get broader public support than Sen. Ford’s.


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