June 26, 2012 -- It was a street battle pitting the champions of civility against those decrying censorship. It was not a fight for those with delicate ears.
The foul mouthed confrontation took place Monday the town hall of Middleborough, Mass., which recently banned cursing and threatened to punish it with $20 tickets.
Former Marine Adam Kokesh, 30, of Santa Fe, organized a protest against the ban, calling Middleborough's effort to control its citizens' speech "more offensive, vulgar and obscene than any curse word."
"It is absolutely immoral to use the force of government against someone acting peacefully," said Kokesh, who used Facebook to assemble the protesters.
The ban, which residents approved at a June 11 town hall meeting by a 180-53 vote, would make public profanity a non-criminal offense. It would replace an old bylaw, deemed unenforceable by police, under which the offense was criminal.
Liberally deploying the F-word and holding up profanity-laden signs, the protesters numbered about two dozen, some from a New Hampshire group called the Free State Project. Several supporters of the ban attended the protest, producing at least one heated confrontation.
Frank Dennull, a reverend at a Middleborough church, asked one protester, "Why don't you hit me? … You're going to make this a public display of vulgarity in front of everybody else?"
Another protester responded to Dennull with profanity that appeared to shock 80-year-old Lorraine Robin, a supporter of the ban who attended the protest, ABC affiliate WCVB reported.
"I don't use that word. And he was using it every other word out of his mouth. And he was just yelling at me and telling me to shut up," she told WCVB.
Kokesh, who said his political philosophy is inspired by the libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, acknowledged in an interview today that First Amendment rights are not boundless, but he said government should limit speech only when it endangers others, as cursing does not. The content of speech, he said, should not be subject to government regulation.
Police did not fine protesters, because the ban the state attorney general has yet to vet the ban for constitutionality and consistency with Massachusetts law.
Middleborough has until July 11 to file the new bylaw with the attorney general's office, which will then have 90 days to review it. Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said it has not yet received the bylaw.