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What if God was taken out of profanity?

July 02, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

Stunning politicians on both the left and right, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that profanity that includes references to a supreme being is an unconstitutional breach of the separation of church and state.

The ruling, if allowed to stand, would mean that school teachers, for example, would no longer be able to tell a child to "get your God-forsaken feet off the desk" because it amounts to an implied endorsement of monotheism.

While it would not extend to swearing used in the private home, divinely inspired cursing would no longer be permitted in schools, public transit, courthouses or any virtually public gathering spot.

The ruling was immediately criticized by Little League parents, who said it would have a "chilling effect" on their ability to communicate their displeasure with umpires.


"You can simply call an umpire a 'jerk,' but without using the name of the Lord thy God in vain as a preceding adjective, what are we really accomplishing?" Little League parent Sue A. Sidesqueeze said.

In Hollywood, the screen writers guild predicted the court ruling could effectively wipe out the profanity-dependent film industry.

"You take profanity out of today's movies and it basically reduces a two-hour script to the length of a pamphlet," film producer Morel D. Kay said.

The 2-1 court ruling came in response to a suit filed by a California man who objected to the fact that his 7-year-old daughter was forced against her will to listen to theocratic profanity on a city bus.

"The situation of divine condemnation implies the existence of a deity through whom to do the damning, is clear violation of the Jeffersonian 'wall of separation,'" the suit alleged. The suit seeks to move profanity to a more secular genre.

Informed of the court's decision, a spokesman for the ACLU said "Thank Darwin, it's about time we stopped inflicting religious views on our youth through casual swearing."

But in Washington, the reaction was swift, negative and harsh.

"What in Jeff's name are they thinking," Senate patriarch Robert C. Byrd said. "Profanity has a long and storied history in these hallowed halls, and throughout all of history. Could Pliny the Elder have compiled his comprehensive treatise on crop rotation without earthy language of his own? I think not."

Across the hall, representatives worried the ruling would curtail their ability to drown out boring floor speeches, as many of them do, by listening to hip-hop on their Walkman headphones.

"If Eminem is no longer an alternative to Charles Wrangell, I don't want to live," Rep. Roscoe Bartlett said. He then walked off down the hall incanting under his breath, "So the FCC/Won't let me be/Or let me be me/So let me see/They tried to shut me down on MTV ..."

Opposition spanned a broad spectrum of ideologies, with cries of outrage from both the left and the right.

Teamsters union representatives said they would immediately file an appeal.

"You know how it is with truckers - take the profanity out of us and we will shrink down so small we won't be able to see over the steering wheel," a Teamsters spokesman said.

They will be joined by the Moral Majority, which fearing a "camel's nose under the tent" effect, issued a statement saying "Whether it is taking prayer out of the classroom or God out of profanity, this is just a thinly veiled attempt by leftist jurists to impose their secular will upon society."

Flush with their victory, however, opponents of divinely inspired profanity said they are ready to join their next battle: Filing suit to get prayer removed from Sunday school.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or you can e-mail him at

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