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Massachusetts town weighs $20 fines for swearing in public

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MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - Officials fed up with public swearing in one town say that forcing the potty-mouthed to pay up might be the right antidote.

Residents attending town meeting in Middleborough on Monday night were scheduled to vote on whether to impose a $20 fine for public swearing.

Officials insist the proposal, offered by the town's police chief, is not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks.

"They'll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It's just so inappropriate," said Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman.

Duphily, who runs an auto parts store, is among the downtown merchants who think it's time to take a stand against the kind of swearing that can make customers uncomfortable.

"I don't care what you do in private. It's in public what bothers me," she said. "Because the older people get really upset, the kids ask their mothers, 'What did he say? What does that mean?"

The measure could raise questions about First Amendment rights, but state law does allow towns to enforce local laws that give police the power to arrest anyone who "addresses another person with profane or obscene language" in a public place.

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