ACLU Defends Detroit Man on Trial for Cursing

January 22, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, January 22, 1999

DETROIT–Timothy Boomer, the suburban Detroit man ticketed last summer under a century-old law that prohibits using indecent language in the presence of women and children, gets his day in court Monday. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is arguing on his behalf.

Boomer, 24, of Roseville, was ticketed August 15 for cursing while standing in the Rifle River in mid-Michigan. Boomer had fallen out of his canoe and began to yell in a non-threatening manner at friends in other canoes.

A police officer standing around the river’s bend ticketed Boomer under an 1897 ordinance which makes it a misdemeanor to “use any indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child,” under penalty of imprisonment of up to 90 days. The police officer said there was a woman with a child near the bank of the river.

“This archaic law singles out women for special treatment without any reasonable justification — a practice held unconstitutional long ago,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The law is based upon outmoded stereotypes about women’s sensitive nature and need for protection.”

“The law openly declares the use of language as a crime, penalizing the mere utterance of words,” Moss added. “As the Michigan Court of Appeals said in 1969: ‘The constitutional right to communicate ideas would be unduly limited if the state could take upon itself the right to prohibit the use of certain words, however offensive and odious they may be.’ “

ACLU cooperating attorney William Street of Saginaw will defend Boomer in Monday’s 3 p.m. hearing before Judge Allen Yenior in Arenac County 81st District Court in Standish.

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