Myrtle Beach is one of the southeast's most popular summer destinations. But if you like to throw around the occasional four-letter swear word, it could cost you — or even land you in jail.
What are the details?
According to Myrtle Beach Online, those caught using profanity in the city limits could be issued a citation and required to pay a fine. More serious vulgarities could even land such a hardened criminal behind bars.
Using "lewd, obscene, profane, boisterous, riotous, tumultuous" language violates the city's disorderly conduct ordinance; essentially, it's a breach of peace.
However, there are some stipulations.
The ordinance says a person violates the law if they use profanity to provoke violence in others. Swearing while "grossly intoxicated" also constitutes a violation of the law.
The city issued 289 citations for swearing last year, records show, yielding $22,161 in additional city revenue. That means the average ticket cost each offender nearly $77. The money goes to the city's general fund.
The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor violation is a $500 fine or 30 days in jail — or both.
Is such a law constitutional?
The First Amendment prohibits government from abridging an individual's right to freely express themselves. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire that there exist "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech" the government can lawfully regulate.
One such class is "fighting words," or speech that "by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." Myrtle Beach directly cites "fighting words" in its ordinance.
What did city officials say?
"We encourage everyone to avoid violating this ordinance by speaking to others with the same respect and kindness you deserve," Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Bryan Murphy told Myrtle Beach Online.
Mark Kruea, the city's spokesman, was more candid. He told Myrtle Beach Online that city officials want to "legislate behavior" and forcing compliance with city ordinances is the best way to accomplish that.
"There is an expectation of a certain amount of propriety in a public place,” he said. "People get excited from time to time. There are limits, I think, to how excited one can be and how much expressive behavior one can share with the public without infringing on somebody else’s right."
"You’re trying to legislate behavior, which is a tough thing to do. You’re trying to establish what’s acceptable and what’s not and provide that guidance for the public," Kruea explained.