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Shoot! Cursing is Still a Crime in Virginia

AP Photo / Steve Helber

Lawmakers in Richmond occasionally curse at each other as debates get heated. And, as Michael Pope explains, they’re breaking the law.

Dang it! Cursing remains illegal in Virginia, despite the efforts of Delegate Michael Webert, a Republican from Fauquier — a county he says can be mispronounced in a way that breaks this law that dates back before the Civil War.

“If you curse or swear in front of a police officer it is a $250 fine and a class 4 misdemeanor meaning that you could be at a demonstration – passions take over and you inadvertently swear that police officer can detain you, give you a ticket and quell that demonstration.”

That’s exactly what happened to a journalist in Fairfax County, who was detained during the Annandale parade after dropping the f-bomb in front of police. Delegate Vivian Watts, a Democrat from Fairfax County, witnessed this happen.

“This was not an isolated incident. It has been increasingly used as a trigger for this kind of restraint of an individual.”

Watts was the only yes vote to Webert’s bill, though. Which means that it failed to advance to the full house. That means cursing remains a crime in Virginia.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.