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VOICES: A Forum for Community Issues | Youth Platform

Speak No Evil

July 03, 1999

Is uttering a profanity in public a freedom of speech protected under the 1st Amendment or a breach of society's morals? A 25-year-old factory worker was found guilty of breaking a 101-year-old Michigan law after he used repeated profanity in front of children after falling out of his canoe. The case sparked a debate across the country. HELEN KIM and LISA HILL interviewed Los Angeles teens and a psychologist on cursing in public.

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KENDRA HARRIS

18, recent Palisades High School graduate; lives in Inglewood

I only swear when I get really angry, when someone insults me or a friend. I wouldn't swear in front of my parents or religious people, both out of respect and because I know that I would get chewed out. There should be a policy that punishes people for swearing, but it shouldn't be too strict.

Swearing is used to express intense anger; when you are very mad, you become mad enough to either punch someone or cuss at someone to get your point across. Some of my friends swear. I don't mind it at first when people cuss around me, but after a while, I don't like it.

I think that the law in Michigan is against the right to freedom of speech. The incident is outrageous. It is taking away his free speech rights.

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BRIAN LEMUS

15, sophomore, Reseda High School; lives in Reseda

I don't really swear often. I swear when people diss me for no reason or if kids provoke me or get me mad. It doesn't happen often. I use swearing as a form of rebellion, to get people back. It's better to use words than your fists. Sometimes swearing feels good because you're mad at the person and you want to let the rage go out.

Sure, there are other ways of letting it out, like writing or socking the wall, but writing's kind of boring and socking the wall hurts.

People who swear have parents who swear a lot and they get used to it. I look down on people who swear.

When there's too much swearing in the media, it offends me, but I'm not sure it should be censored. It's a freedom of speech. The government should talk to the parents and teachers, tell them to talk to their kids, make parents be more strict.

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SUMI SADWANI

18, just graduated Palisades High School; lives in Los Angeles

Although I swear on a daily basis, I've been trying not to say bad words because my parents don't like it and my brother, who looks up to me, always follows what I do. If I swear, then he's going to do it too. He already is starting to get this attitude. I am seeing myself through him and I don't like it.

I think that swearing is bad, regardless of the gender or age of the people surrounding the person who is swearing. I would guess that guy in Michigan wouldn't be punished if he lived in California, where people swear every day.

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ALEXIS PITT

17, junior, Taft High School; lives in Sherman Oaks

I swear sometimes, when somebody makes me mad. I picked it up from my track coach. I'm trying to cut back on it. You could also scream to blow off steam, but it makes you look crazy. Swearing's a form of expression, and not used for the shock value. It's just It's just certain words that people are used to saying or hearing; or the only way people can get their point out is through the way they talk.

When people cuss, I understand what they're saying better than if they didn't use swear words.

The school policy about cursing is too strict. There are kids fighting and yet the school wants to kick you out for swearing.

Movies are the biggest influence on me to use bad words. Right now movies, music videos and rap music have a lot of cuss words. I started swearing around the time I started to talk. I was picking it up. It isn't a form of rebellion because my parents cuss too.

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JAMES HONG

18, just graduated Palisades High School; lives in Koreatown

I swear in front of my friends. In class, my swearing habit turns off because I know it is inappropriate. I would not swear in front of teachers out of respect for authority. People are not allowed to swear on campus, but students do it anyway. I think my school's policy is fair.

When others around me swear, I feel uncomfortable because it sounds dirty and vulgar, although I am not offended. My younger brother swears sometimes. I try to cut down on my swearing because I play basketball and the younger kids look up to me. I swear when I'm angry, especially in situations related to driving, like when someone cuts me off. I also swear to express myself more clearly.

Holding one's tongue is one of the strongest things that a person can do. I greatly admire people who never cuss.

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