The Knucklehead of the Day award

Today’s winner is South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford. He gets the award for the following

S.C. Senator Robert Ford has introduced a bill that would make it a felony to communicate a profane term in public.

So, yes, the would-be governor Ford (yes, he’s running in 2010) wants to make it a state responsibility to arrest and penalize folks $5,000 or 5 years in jail for cursing in public.

His bill says:

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.

If swearing became a crime, most citizens of South Carolina would be felons.

Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy writes

To begin with, of course, this is unconstitutionally overbroad under Cohen v. California (the Fuck the Draft case), even if “profane” is read to mean “vulgar” rather than “characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things.” It may also be unconstitutionally vague; see Reno v. ACLU, which suggests that such terms are potentially vague when their scope isn’t narrowed by other provisions of the statute (compare Hamling v. U.S.).

But beyond this, what’s shocking is how ridiculously broad this proposal is, even to people who I take it would disagree with Cohen:

1. If you say “fuck” or, I suppose, “damn” or “shit” around your own teenager, you’re a felon.

2. If you give, lend, or sell a book, newspaper, or movie to a minor that contains any such words, you’re a felon.

3. If you give the King James Version of the Bible to a minor, knowing that it contains the word “piss,” I expect you’re a felon, too. (I set aside “damn” and “hell” on the theory that they might not be treated as “vulgar” when used in a religious sense rather than figuratively as insults or expressions of disgust.)

4. Two 16-year-olds can be sexually involved in South Carolina (as can an adult and a 16-year-old), but under this law they’d be felons if they talk lewdly to each other. (Why is teenage sex bad? Because it might lead to lewd talk.)

What is Senator Ford thinking?

Was he thinking at all or is this legislation just kind of ploy? It certainly is dumb and unconstitutional and that’s why I name South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford today’s Knucklehead of the Day.

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