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Massachusetts bill would make it a criminal offense to utter the word 'b*tch'

An obvious First Amendment violation, a lawyer says

iStock / Getty Images Plus/Ar Ducha Misfa'i

A Massachusetts Democratic lawmaker has proposed a law that would criminalize certain uses of the word "b*tch."

The bill, proposed by state Rep. Dan Hunt, proposes adding language to a section of Massachusetts state law that addresses certain low-level criminal offenses, such as disturbing the peace and indecent exposure, Boston.com reported.

The proposal reads:

A person who uses the word "bitch" directed at another person to accost, annoy, degrade or demean the other person shall be considered to be a disorderly person in violation of this section.

Violation of the law — which could be reported by the offended person or a witness — would be punished in a manner similar to the other offenses that section of Massachusetts state law. This means uttering the word "b*tch" in a demeaning manner could result in a fine of up to $200 and up to six months in jail.

As Reason pointed out, the law would be redundant because the state's disorderly conduct law already prohibits "offensive and disorderly acts or language" used to "accost or annoy another person."

Is the law legal?

Jim Manley, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, told Reason that there is zero doubt that the proposed law is itself illegal.

"As the Supreme Court has said there's no happy talk requirement in the First Amendment. You cannot ban a word when it's used to annoy someone but let them use the word when they are using the word in a positive way. There's no confusion about this point of law," Manley told the magazine. "Legislatures can't just pluck words out of the dictionary and ban them."

Not only that but the proposal is a tremendous waste of government resources — and would become even more so if it were passed.

"What [Hunt] is proposing is wasting tremendous public resources," Manley told Reason. "Not only the resources that go into having the bill go through the legislative process. If by some horrible unconstitutional miracle, it got passed, then courts would have to spend time striking it down."

One last thing…
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