South Carolina is trying to pass a bill which would make it unlawful to swear in public. No, seriously, check it out.
TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SECTION 16-15-370 SO AS TO MAKE IT UNLAWFUL TO COMMUNICATE PROFANITY IN A PUBLIC FORUM OR PLACE OF PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION; BY ADDING SECTION 16-15-430 SO AS TO CREATE THE OFFENSE OF DISSEMINATING PROFANITY TO A MINOR AND PROVIDE A PENALTY FOR THE OFFENSE; TO AMEND SECTION 16-15-305, RELATING TO DISSEMINATING OBSCENITY, SO AS TO SPECIFY BOTH ORAL AND WRITTEN PUBLICATIONS; AND TO AMEND SECTION 16-15-375, RELATING TO DEFINITIONS FOR PURPOSES OF MORALITY AND DECENCY OFFENSES AGAINST MINORS, SO AS TO INCLUDE THE OFFENSE OF DISSEMINATING PROFANITY TO A MINOR.
Well, that's rather inclusive, isn't it? And notice how they're waving the "Think Of The Children!!" flag; that has to be good for a few votes at least. Also, throwing in the "minors" mention doubtless brings up mental images of playgrounds, zoos, and movie theaters showing the latest Little Foot movie, but note that it says "IN A PUBLIC FORUM OR PLACE OF PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION." That means anywhere in public, including places where children are unlikely to be or are actually banned. Bummer for the comedy clubs of South Carolina.
And before you imagine that it's just about not swearing on the street, or in restaurants or amusement parks or whatever, note this:
wilfully and knowingly to publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available [Bolding mine.]
So, if this passes, how long do you think it'd be before they started smacking on web sites and blogs, since anything you or I or anyone else posts with a naughty word in it is obviously made available through any computer in South Carolina with an internet connection, including internet cafes and public libraries. Where children go! [cue gasps of horror]
There's precedent for people operating online to be sued in an out-of-state court for something they said or did, even if they live in a jurisdiction where their activities are legal -- see the third paragraph in the link above -- so it's not as though no one's ever tried to pull this before.
But then, "community standards" is such a wishy-washy concept, isn't it? It can be tough to pin down. If this law goes through, South Carolina won't have to bother with community standards, though -- they'll have an actual law letting them sue anyone they want, whether it's a porn site or a raunchy humor site or just a blog where someone got really worked up and typed out a profane word.
This isn't a misdemeanor, either; they want to make it a felony.
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.
Oh, and for those of you following along in the handbook, this is what the First Amendment says on the subject:
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech
That specifically refers to the government. If Blogger decides to enact a PG-13 only rule, they can do that because this is a privately owned service and they can make their own rules, and as customers or users our choice is to use the service and obey the rules or decide we don't like the rules and go elsewhere; the first amendment doesn't forbid that. Most issues which get a "First Amendment" label slapped onto them in arguments are no such thing. It might be stupid for Blogger to make such a rule, and it'd be publicity poison, but they're legally allowed to do it. The government is very specifically not allowed to abridge our freedom of speech. I guess no one told the South Carolina legislature.
I'm hoping very hard that this garbage doesn't pass. If any of you are from South Carolina, you might want to contact your state congress people about it.