Man faces jail for stream of expletives

TIMOTHY BOOMER is cursing the day he went canoeing last August on Michigan's Rifle River. He will not be venting his feelings out loud, however. At least, not in front of the children.

Cursing, in fact, and a 101-year-old state law forbidding it when women and children are in earshot, has already got Mr Boomer into trouble. A Michigan judge this week ruled that because of a few choice words allegedly spoken by him on the river that day, he must stand trial. He faces a jail term.

The alleged crime was committed when Mr Boomer, 24,tipped out of his canoe. He reacted by unleashing a stream of expletives - just as a couple and their two children were paddling by. According to Tammy Smith, the mother, Mr Boomer's outburst was so loud and obscene she had to cup her hands over her two-year-olddaughter's ears. In her complaint to police, she claimed Mr Boomer in particular had yelled one curse word "over and over and over and over again".

On Monday, a Michigan judge dismissed arguments that Mr Boomer should be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing rights to free speech and ordered him to stand trial for violation of the 1897 law on blaspheming. The trial will begin on 24 February. If he is found guilty, Mr Boomer could be punished with 90 days in prison and a fine of $100.

"Mr Boomer's words were without any socially redeeming quality whatsoever," Judge Allen Yenior wrote in his opinion. "The First Amendment suffers no damage here by taking a back seat to the compelling interest in the morality of our children."

The decision will be appealed by the American Civil Liberties Union.