Monday, January 10, 2011

Your constitutional right to cuss is safe

As the N&O's Anne Blythe reports here, your first amendment right to cuss has been upheld.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ruled that a 98 year-old state law banning cursing, which specifically exempted Pitt and Swain counties (and prompted a legendary speech in the legislature in the 1970s)  is unconstitutional, or it is in Orange County, anyway. Baddour may have never known Herbert Hyde, the wise fellow who delivered that speech, but the two would have agreed on the constitutionality of the law.
Blythe reports:

"The case stems from an incident that took place in Chapel Hill last February on Franklin Street, the college town's main drag.

"Samantha Elabanjo, a 44-year-old woman familiar to police officers, was having a conversation near a bus stop and stepped into the street as a squad car approached. The officers in the car told her to move along, according to lawyers involved with the case, and she used a bit of profanity while calling their car 'dirty.'
Then, Elabanjo stepped back onto the sidewalk, waved her arms wildly and uttered another curse word to describe the officers.

"Officers initially charged Elabanjo with disorderly conduct and using 'indecent or profane language' in a 'loud and boisterous manner' within earshot of two or more people on any public road or highway - a misdemeanor in North Carolina.

"At Elabanjo's trial in July, an Orange District Court judge dismissed the disorderly conduct charge, but found her guilty of using profanity in the street, not the sidewalk.

"Elabanjo appealed the conviction to Superior Court, and Judge Allen Baddour heard the case Monday. He dismissed the charge and on Wednesday issued a three-page ruling, a document that arrived in the mail at the ACLU late Friday."

The state law exempting Pitt and Swain counties from the cussing ban was the topic of an impassioned 1973 speech by then-Rep. Herbert Hyde, D-Buncombe, a noted orator who could quote the King James version of the Bible, Shakespeare and his Great Uncle Fide Hyde to make an often colorful point. The writer Thad Stem once said Hyde had the eyes of Will Rogers and the tongue of Mark Twain.

Hyde ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1976 and later served in the state Senate. But his speech -- often known as the "Mr. Speaker, there oughta be somewhere a person can cuss without breaking the law" speech -- will go down in state political history as a marvel of restraint.  Hyde was arguing against a bill that would include Pitt and Swain counties in the law that made it a crime to cuss in public. After his speech, the House agreed and left Pitt and Swain as sanctuaries of strong speech.

In that 1973 speech to the House, Hyde conceded what Baddour would conclude this year: The law itself was unconstitutional.  "But the folks in Swain wouldn't want me to stand on that kind of technicality and I'm not going to do that," Hyde told the House.

"But there ought to be a refuge somewhere a man could go and when he really is provoked that he can say something with impunity. There's only two places left  Pitt and Swain. One in the East and one in the West. I think it's most appropriate."

The last time I saw Herb Hyde was at a dinner organized by former House Rules Chair Jack Hunt and his wife Ruby, of Lattimore in Cleveland County.  Hyde always looked to me like one of the founding fathers -- a wise man who had seen some of everything there was to see, and could still make an entertaining speech out of it. My guess is if he were around today, he'd endorse Judge Baddour's ruling, proclaim victory and light up a cigar.


NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said...

Thank you, Jack, for your post. When I learned of Judge Baddour's ruling and read the initial press accounts from others, I was concerned that folks had forgotten Senator Hyde's impassioned plea that, if not mistaken, was also recorded for distribution and entertainment around the State.

Senator Herbert Hyde had so many great attributes and aphorisms. Yes, he could quote the Gospel and Shakespeare in the same sentence; it was always a pleasure to hear just how he'd do that in his stump speeches.

And he could also do the following whenever at a political gathering: Proclaim officially that, like the Good Book says, "a multitude has gathered" and then, without batting eye and his firmly believing every syllable of what he said next, that "he was born in a log cabin that he built with his own bare hands."

Senator Hyde is sorely missed.

Anonymous said...

Well I'll be damned.