No more jail time for cussing in front of kids in Michigan

By Ben Klayman

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - It is no longer a crime punishable with jail time in Michigan to curse in front of women or children, or sing the national anthem out of tune.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed seven bills on Tuesday eliminating outdated laws, including some having to do with dueling, trampling blackberry bushes or refusing to help fight a forest fire, according to a statement by the governor's office.

“Modernizing state government is an ongoing effort,” Snyder said in the statement. “I appreciate the work of the legislature in analyzing the criminal code and eliminating statutes that no longer make sense in the 21st century.”

In all the cases, the incidents are no longer misdemeanors or felonies, a spokeswoman for the governor said. In some cases, they could still be a civil infraction, but they won't appear on a person's criminal record.

Snyder asked state lawmakers in May to reduce overcriminalization by identifying archaic and redundant laws on the books.

The obscure law about cursing in front of women and children drew national attention in August 1998 when a Detroit-area man was charged with the crime while on a canoeing trip in Arenac County, about 125 miles north of Detroit.

The computer programmer, who became known nationally as the "cussing canoeist," yelled the "f-word" as many as 75 times within earshot of a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl after he fell out of his canoe on the remote Rifle River.

The case drew national attention, pitting free speech advocates against supporters of stronger curbs on offensive language. The man was found guilty after a district judge refused to dismiss the case, but in 2002 the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, calling the more than 100-year-old law too vague.


(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by James Dalgleish)