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Can fines keep residents of Brussels from cursing in public?

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Will Brussels' new law serve politeness or the thought police?

Photo: Claire Lambrecht

In Brussels, Belgium, free speech rights only go so far. On Tuesday, the Belgian city approved a law making it illegal to swear in public.

"Any form of insult is from now on punishable, whether it be racist, homophobic or otherwise," said Mayor Freddy Thielemans through a spokesman Thursday. Those convicted of swearing in public will be subject to police fines ranging from 75 to 250 Euros.

Though it could be criticized as draconian, the fine is far from arbitrary. As the International Business Times reported Wednesday, the swearing ban arrived in the midst of a national discussion across Belgium of rudeness -- and sexual harassment in particular -- in public.

The recent film, "Femme de la Rue," by 25-year-old French filmmaker Sofie Peeters certainly has something to do with it. Using an undercover camera, Peeters documented unwanted advancing and cat-calling on the streets of Brussels.

"Even if I wear long trousers and a t-shirt," Peeters wrote on the film's Facebook page, "They follow me around clicking their tongue and asking me where I live, if I'm married and how much it costs to have sex with them."

Brussels Alderman Phillipe Close said he supports the fine. “If education does not work," Close told Euronews Aug. 24, "our job is also to show that the public power is here, that the public authority is here. At some point, those who will not understand through education and campaigns will be sanctioned with fines."

Belgium is not the only place to implement anti-profanity laws. In July, the Massachusetts town of Middleborough passed a similar measure. What does a four-letter word cost stateside? Twenty dollars.

[The Daily Telegraph]

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Claire Lambrecht

Contributing Writer

Claire Lambrecht has written for the New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Nation, and CBS MoneyWatch. Previously, she taught English as a Teach for America Corps Member and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She holds degrees from Cornell University, the University of Hawaii, and the Arthur M. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure