Can a city, town or county ban you from saying curse words? Recent headlines regarding an ordinance in Myrtle Beach prove a city can.
The first line of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make now law prohibiting the free exercise or abridging the freedom of speech…” And for many of us that translates into being able to say whatever we want.
University of South Carolina Professor Eric Robinson explained the gist of the First Amendment and the exception to the rule.
“The First Amendment generally says the government can’t restrict your speech. The courts have added to it that there are limited circumstances where they can restrict your speech,” Dr. Robinson explained.
Those circumstances include language that threatens national security or public safety.
“Saying a word out of frustration would probably not be enough to be prosecuted because there is no threat of violence immediately happening,” Robinson added.
But in Myrtle Beach saying the wrong thing could land you in hot water. A city ordinance defines profanity and “fighting words” as acts of disorderly conduct.
While many may not agree with the wording of the local law, some understand why it’s in place.
Keifer Negri grew up in Myrtle Beach. “I understand that’s kind of a big deal there because it’s family friendly, but a lot of people go there for spring break and there’s a lot of vulgar activities.”
The Myrtle Beach Police Department says the ordinance isn’t merely about profanity. It’s about using those words to incite a fight or acts of violence.
Robinson elaborated, “It would depend on the circumstances of what’s happening and what’s going on and what the police see.”
The disorderly conduct ordinance also includes public drunkenness, blocking sidewalks to where others can’t pass by, and physically invading someone’s personal space.
The ordinance also specifies that the disorderly conduct charge is circumstantial and depends on time, place, and proximity to other people.
The city ordinance is similar to state law that also includes obscene language or profanity in the definition of disorderly conduct, which carries penalties ranging from a $100 fine to 30 days in jail.