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Protesters rally against Middleborough fine for swearing

Nearly 100 people gathered in the pouring rain on the Middleborough town lawn today to protest a town ordinance that would make swearing in public punishable by a $20 fine.

The organizer of the rally, Adam Kokesh, 30, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said the ordinance is an example of “pathological bullying behavior” by the government. He was joined by residents and protesters from other states.

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Enforcement of the ordinance is on hold until Attorney General Martha Coakley determines whether the measure is constitutional.

A town meeting vote of 183 to 50 earlier this month paved the way for the fine by decriminalizing a bylaw passed in 1968 that made public profanity illegal.

The bylaw was rarely enforced because it was not worth the time and expense to pursue a case through the courts, officials said. By decriminalizing the law, police are able to write citations similar to a traffic violation.

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The enforcement “would have to be generated by a citizen complaint if it’s enforced at all,” said Lieutenant David Mackiewicz, who has worked in the community for more than 30 years. He said he could only remember once incident when the swearing rule was enforced, and said he expects that the citations will remain uncommon.

The ordinance also decriminalizes some other types of disorderly conduct, including public drinking and marijuana use, and dumping snow on a roadway.

Matt Woolbright can be reached at matt.woolbright@globe.com.
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