NEWSFLASH! 2/10-2/24

Virginia lawmakers have repealed a centuries-old, vague profanity law. The statute criminalized “any person [who] profanely curses or swears” and made any violation thereof a Class 4 misdemeanor. While Virginia joins a host of states who have already repealed such laws, many states still retain profanity statutes. As one spokesman for Virginia’s governor—who is expected to sign the repeal imminently—argued, “It’s past time we swore off the antiquated policies of the past.”

While on the subject of profanity laws, two University of Connecticut students were recently arrested on campus when they were accused of yelling racial slurs in a public place. The students were charged under a 1917 statute that criminalizes (as a class D misdemeanor) “[a]ny person who…ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons….” In response to the episode, Connecticut lawmakers are now considering repealing the law in recognition that, while the conduct was offensive, it may be unconstitutional to criminalize.

A Catholic foster agency, Catholic Social Services, sued the city of Philadelphia in 2018 when the city excluded the organization from participating in its municipal foster-care system. In withdrawing the collaboration, Philadelphia officials cited the organization’s policy of refusing to place children with same-sex couples. After a unanimous Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that Catholic Social Services “failed to make a persuasive showing that the City targeted it for its religious beliefs, or is motivated by ill will against its religion, rather than sincere opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. The organization will likely argue that city of Philadelphia violated the organization’s First Amendment rights in ruling that it may not discriminate against same-sex couples as a condition of working with it.

Controversy recently consumed the University of Oklahoma when a professor argued to his class that the increasingly viral meme, “OK Boomer,” was the equivalent of a racial slur used to describe African-Americans. The professor, a white man, was lecturing on the effects of social media upon the field of journalism. In response to a student comment stating that journalists should embrace the changing tide of journalism in order to reach younger audiences, the professor argued that this comment was the equivalent of saying “OK, Boomer”—an increasingly popular insult sometimes described as ageist. He then further asserted that the meme is similar to calling someone the N word. In a later released statement, the university’s president criticized the professor but noted that he is nonetheless protected under the First Amendment.

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