[Homestead] Language: Constitution, dictionary or five guys' opinion?

Gene GeRue genegerue at ruralize.com
Fri Nov 7 10:18:21 EST 2008

The Supreme Court is deciding whether the F-word and the S-word may be  
used sparingly on public communication channels. At issue is whether  
the FCC has effected a rule that is too strong. I note that in the  
following article there is not one reference to the Constitution or  
the First Amendment in any quote attributed to a justice. As many of  
us have noted, the Supreme Court is no more supreme than lower courts  
in refraining from legislating from the bench.

I am not in favor of coarsening our language. But it seems to me that  
parents should control what language their children are exposed to,  
not the government. Advertisers have a right to spend their money  
where they choose. Media publishers should have a right to communicate  
as they choose. Viewers and listeners should have the right to make  
the final decision: what they and their children will attend. Not the  

And since when has the F-word been associated with excretory activity?

Supreme Court Debates 'F-word' Without Using It
by Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON - A clearly divided Supreme Court on Tuesday debated  
indecent language for an hour without anyone using the words in  

Circumlocutions like "the F-word" and "the S-word" sufficed as the  
court considered the year's highest-profile free-speech controversy.  
All signs now point to a tight decision over whether broadcasters can  
be fined for allowing use of so-called "fleeting expletives," which  
are swear words used in passing.

The court's conservative justices showed sympathy for the Federal  
Communications Commission members who want to punish broadcasters.  
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia denounced the "coarsening" effect of  
swearing, while Chief Justice John Roberts warned about  
"impressionable children" being harmed by inherently dirty words.

"Why do you think the F-word has shocking value?" Robert asked  
rhetorically. "It's because it's associated with sexual or excretory  
activity; that's what gives it its force."

Added Scalia, "that's what gives it its' zing."

But other justices sounded more willing to tolerate the occasional  
swear word, with Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, a Navy veteran,  
noting that sometimes "you can't help but laugh" at how a swear word  
is deployed. More pointedly, some justices suggested the FCC's stern  
new swear words policy came about arbitrarily.

"There seems to be no rhyme or reason with some of the changes the  
commission has made," Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

The dispute in the case called FCC v. Fox Television Stations centers  
on two questions. The broader one is whether regulators violate First  
Amendment free speech rights by fining broadcasters for an occasional  
swear word. The other question is narrower, and it might be the only  
one the court actually decides: whether the FCC acted "arbitrarily and  
capriciously" in changing its policy about indecent language in 2004.

"It was, at a minimum, a rational policy choice," Solicitor General  
Gregory Garre insisted.

Loosening indecency standards, Garre warned ominously, could lead to  
"Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street."

Attorney Carter Phillips, representing Fox Television Stations,  
retorted that "there was no explanation" for the FCC's policy change.

The policy change in question arose following a live 2003 broadcast of  
the "Golden Globe Awards," when the lead singer Bono from the Irish  
rock ban U-2 declared his award was "really, really, (blank)ing  
brilliant." During the 2003 Billboard Music Award, quasi-celebrity  
Nicole Richie declared "it's not so (blank)ing simple" to remove "cow  
(blank) out of a Prada purse."

And during the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, Cher celebrated by  
denouncing her myriad doubters.

"I've also had critics for the last 40 years saying that I was on my  
way out every year. Right." the Fresno High School dropout originally  
known as Cherilyn Sarkisian said. "So (blank) 'em. I still have a job  
and they don't."

FCC career staffers initially considered such language the kind of  
passing expletive, drained of sexual content, that's been grudgingly  
accepted for the past three decades. This reasoning dates back to a  
mid-1970s Supreme Court decision, involving comedian George Carlin, in  
which the court determined that "isolated use of a potentially  
offensive word" differs from the "verbal shock treatment" of profane  

The politically appointed FCC, then reversed the staff decision and  
declared that even a fleeting reference to what the commission called  
"the F-word" could be deemed unacceptable. The fines for broadcasters  
could potentially reach as high as $325,000.

"It's one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit words for sexual  
activity," Garre told the Court.

Countered Stevens, "that's a word that is often used with no reference  
to sexual connotations."

A court decision is expected by next June.


More information about the Homestead mailing list