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F*ck! It’s A Crime To Read This Headline Out Loud In Virginia

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Washingtonian reports that the county of Arlington, Virginia recently voted to increase “penalties for public intoxication and blue language from $100 to $250.” This new ordinance actually mirrors a statewide law, which subjects “any person [who] profanely curses or swears or is intoxicated in public” to a similar fine.

In 2014, Arlington police reportedly made 664 arrests for violations of the ban on profanity or public drunkenness, although it is unclear if any of these were made purely because someone cursed.

Arlington’s decision to increase its own penalties for cursing is somewhat strange, however, as such a ban is almost certainly unconstitutional. In Gooding v. Wilson, the Supreme Court struck down a Georgia law that prohibited “opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace.” Though the Court explained that a narrower law prohibiting so-called “fighting words” may be permissible, this law swept too broadly. “Vulgar or offensive” speech, Justice William Brennan explained in his opinion for the Court, may still be protected by the First Amendment.

Perhaps because of this Supreme Court case striking down a similar law, there is only one case in the Lexis database of Virginia court decisions — a research tool commonly used by lawyers and judges — which involves a prosecution against someone who “profanely curses or swears.” That case, a Virginia appellate court decision involving a man who made statements such as “fuck cops” and “I hate fucking cops,” struck down a Virginia Beach city ordinance that closely maps the state law.

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