Massachusetts lawmakers considered a state bill on Tuesday that would punish people for calling others a “bitch.”
State Rep. Daniel Hunt, a Democrat representing the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, introduced the bill in May on behalf of a constituent, something only the Bay State allows. The full text of the bill reads as follows:
A person who uses the word “bitch” directed at another person to accost, annoy, degrade or demean the other person shall be considered to be a disorderly person in violation of this section, and shall be subject to the penalties provided in subsections (a) and (b). A violation of this subsection may be reported by the person to whom the offensive language was directed at or by any witness to such incident.
The subsections mentioned in the bill include possible punishments for the offense. Should the bill become a law, anyone in Massachusetts who calls someone else a “bitch” in anger could be subject to a fine of up to $200 or up to six months in jail.
Hunt told The Boston Globe that he filed the bill on behalf of a constituent, but forgot to check the box indicating that was the case, leading some to believe that it was he who wanted to criminalize the word.
“[The constituent] e-mailed me, and it was right around filing deadline,” Hunt told the Globe. “We’ll file it to get it in the process.”
Hunt also said he was roundly mocked for the bill by the State’s Republican Party in tweets and by people from across the country.
“I got at least 50 phone calls today calling me a ‘bitch’ or the ‘C’ word, and I’ve also gotten probably 50 e-mails,” he told the outlet.
The Globe asked if the emails and phone calls bothered Hunt, and he said it was “their right to express themselves to an elected official.”
The bill, however, would remove the right to express oneself to other citizens.
The bill, according to the Globe, was one of nearly 70 relating to criminal justice that was discussed by the Joint Judiciary Committee during a hearing. Other bills included changes in law regarding victims’ rights, juvenile offenders, and witness testimony. Hunt’s bill appears to be the only one suggesting an entirely new criminal act.
The bill is also “clearly unconstitutional,” according to Boston College law professor Kent Greenfield. He told the Globe that the “Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in a bunch of cases that very offensive, very hurtful speech is nevertheless protected.”
Because the word “bitch,” has certain gender connotations, the bill also appears discriminatory, as cruel words usually reserved for men were not included. Of course, that would mean opening the door to criminalizing so many additional forms of speech, which is obviously wrong.
Arline Isaacson, co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, told The Boston Herald that she opposed the bill.
“While I detest the use of the B-word and the N-word and the word fag, etc., I love the Constitution more and question the constitutionality of bills like this,” she said. “The concern is specifically about the right to free speech, including speech that I hate.”