Drop the F Bomb, Go to Jail

KSL reported last night that Ogden city officials are responding to violence at kids’ sporting events by proposing that profanity be outlawed.

To justify this component of the ever-increasing nanny state in Utah, Ogden Public Services Director Jay Lowder claims that “heated conversations [are often] being elevated to physical violence.”

Many Utahns have reacted in disgust at this attempt to crack down on free speech, and rightly so. But it is likely a safe assumption to claim that many of these opponents to Ogden’s anti-swearing statute support, for example, laws against drinking and driving. Both prohibitions are based on the same flawed view of the proper role of government.

With DUI laws, it is argued that an inebriated driver poses an increased risk for doing damage not only to himself and his vehicle, but to others as well. Statistics bear out this claim, and few would dispute it. However, not all drunk drivers crash their cars or cause any harm to themselves or those around them because of their intoxicated behavior. But the law aims to prevent actions which may or may not influence a violent act, rather than focusing solely on the act itself.

Similarly, it is claimed by Ogden officials that profanity leads to violence, whether on the sports field or elsewhere. Using the same reasoning behind DUI law, they propose to prohibit the profanity itself, in order to crack down on the violence. Because of the similarly flawed logic underlying both of these uses of government power, one cannot support one and oppose the other without being inconsistent in their logic.

The criminalization of influences on criminal behavior, as opposed to only the action itself, introduces an element into the justice system that has no logical boundaries. To the extent that influences of an action are considered legitimate targets of the law, then any and all influence must likewise be criminalized. Of course, few individuals would support throwing a person in jail for being dumped by his girlfriend, or having friends who commit crime, or who feel a strong sense of hatred for another person. Actions are influenced by any number of factors, and these factors may or may not result in a crime. Many people use profanity who have never and will never commit a violent act, whereas a small minority may actually become violent (but likely not as a direct result of their language). A moral and just legal system focuses only on the action itself, as opposed to the myriad influences that may or may not have been a factor in the actual crime.

KSL reports that Ogden’s proposal is based on the idea that if parents “could keep from using profane language and getting angry, maybe they could stop those fights from happening.” Rather than focusing on those who commit actual acts of violence, Ogden officials wish to deviate from the proper role of government and criminalize speech they don’t like.

“We just want to stop it and get the sportsmanship back in our programs so everyone feels comfortable and safe,” Lowder said. While Libertas Institute shares the goal of promoting healthy sportsmanship and a safe society, we reject the false notion that the government should therefore lock people in a cage for up to three months who use profane language.

The punitive arm of the law should only be employed against those who have actually violated the life, liberty, or property of another person. By expanding the field to other actions which are not violations, but which may or may not at some future time lead to such a violation, proponents of this ordinance and similar laws promote violence (by the government) in order to prevent it (by individuals). This mental exercise defies both common sense and good government.

We therefore strongly oppose this proposal by Ogden officials, and encourage Utahns in that city and elsewhere to reject the idea that we should increase the nanny state in order to create a healthy and safe society. The ends do not justify the means.