Profanity could cost you $500 & 30 days in jail in Myrtle Beach but is this legal?
The city of Myrtle Beach, SC has a city ordinance known as Ordinance 14-61 (b) which is being used to fine (up to the $500) and jail (for up to 30 days) hundreds of people per year in the city for the use of profanity however, is this actually legal? What about freedom of speech? Who decides what is profane? What does this Ordinance actually say regarding profane speech? In this article I will break it all down for you.
I live in South Carolina, not in Myrtle Beach but instead in the Upstate area of South Carolina. I have been to Myrtle Beach many times in my life and while looking into this story I learned that Myrtle Beach has a nickname known as “Dirty Myrtle,” however, considering the ordinance in the city of Myrtle Beach you better keep your mouth clean instead of dirty unless you want to be one of the hundreds referenced above that are fined and/or jailed each year for using profane language.
I have seen signs such as at Haywood Mall in Greenville, SC saying that you are not to use foul language or you will be kicked out of the mall basically. In my opinion in this example it is perfectly legal for the mall to make the use of foul language unacceptable as they are not a government entity but a private business however, I do not believe that the same applies to this city ordinance in Myrtle Beach.
What we learn in basic law 101 is that we have a hierarchy of laws. The Supreme Court is obviously the highest court in the land whose laws are the laws of the land along with the constitution which is the law of the land. Both have given us protection when it comes to freedom of speech in regards to cursing including going so far as to state that for example it is not a crime to curse at a police officer and if an officer is the target of profane language, they are not supposed to make an arrest, because they are a government official, and it’s a violation of free speech rights. It might be tacky depending on the situation however, it is not illegal. So, federal law is at the top of the legal food chain which nullifies all laws in disagreement with a federal law, you then have state laws which nullify county and local laws that are in disagreement with state law, you then have county laws/ordinances and at the bottom of the food chain you have city ordinances which in the case of the Myrtle Beach profanity legal ordinance is at the bottom of the legal food chain and in violation of federal laws protecting freedom of speech.
So, given the example I just gave in our law 101 paragraph above this local ordinance in Myrtle Beach flies directly in the face of federal law which protects freedom of speech to curse at police officers if you decide to do so which is right under federal law as long as you do not communicate a threat that is the exception to your freedom of speech rights. Just using this simple example, it is clear to see that this Myrtle Beach ordinance is directly in opposition to federal law which makes it null and void to anyone who would like to actually challenge this law in court which most defendants do not especially defendants charged in a vacation town like Myrtle Beach who may live hundreds of miles away from Myrtle Beach making it nearly impossible for them to come back to Myrtle Beach for a trial and/or hearing. So, they opt to just pay the fine once they get home to avoid any further inconvenience.
For a better understanding of this ordinance found under the Myrtle Beach code of city ordinances section 14-61 (b) is found in the following statement that has been issued by the city of Myrtle Beach Police Department:
“A person would violate Ordinance 14-61 (b) 1 if he/she uses a language likely to provoke a violent reaction from another person. The ordinance lists several examples of the types of words which are unlawful. The penalty for conviction could include a fine and/or jail time. We encourage everyone to avoid violating this ordinance by speaking to others with the same respect and kindness he or she deserves.”
Now, this sounds nice the whole do unto others as you would have them do unto you mentality however, that is not the way that our laws work. This very statement from the Myrle Beach Police Department is a law which violates federal law as well as the common sense and common law understanding that there is a difference between cursing at a person and using language which the MBPD says will provoke a violent reaction from another person which would be a threat of physical harm to them which is not even in the neighborhood of mattering if you happened to use a few choice words of not while issuing such a threat. Not to mention the fact that the issuance of verbal threats and cursing are not a legally recognized reason to physically assault someone. That is the law and is also common sense so it will only be a matter of time now that this story is getting more and more publicity before this law is struck down as being unconstitutional.
I recommend to anyone who may be charged under this illegal law to challenge this law in court to help get this law overturned by either state court, federal district court, or potentially even the supreme court of the United States or South Carolina which must side with the first amendment of freedom of speech.
Thank you for reading my article and if you have any questions or comments about this story please email me or leave them below in the comments section and they will be responded to.