Civility is much to be desired, but it can't be legislated
Civility is a fine thing.
And there is no question that there is far too little of it these days.
We even find ourselves occasionally veering into uncivil territory, and we almost always regret it afterward -- though sometimes not.
Just the other day a national survey was released by Public Agenda, a New York-based nonprofit organization, that showed eight out of 10 Americans think that a lack of respect and courtesy in American society is a serious problem.
And we'd agree. People yell at each other. They curse like sailors, an analogy that is probably an insult to sailors and an offense to grammarians. A letter on today's page notes that a congressional aide displayed a single finger to television cameras the other day, and not in a digital configuration that indicated he thought his team was No. 1. Cars drive down our streets blaring music that is not only cacophonous, but contains lyrics that would offend any sailor (there we go again with the sailors).
Six out of 10 Americans polled thought things have gotten worse in recent years, and that seems conservative.
And so, let the record show that we agree that this is a ruder, coarser world than the one into which everyone reading these words was born, and we believe just about everyone could do his or her part to bring a bit more civility back into our lives.
Law goes too far: That said, we find ourselves agreeing with the Michigan Court of Appeals which, on the very day that Public Appeal released its survey, stuck down a 19th century law against swearing in front of women and children.
The three-judge panel ruled in favor of Timothy Joseph Boomer, a canoeist who was found guilty in 1999 by an Arenac County jury of letting loose a stream of curses after falling into the water.
He was fined $75 and ordered to work four days in a child-care program, but the sentence was put on hold while the case was appealed.
The 1897 law prohibits "indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child," which is about as broad and vague as a law can get.
Witnesses testified that Boomer fell out of his canoe when it struck a rock. A man who was in a nearby boat with his wife and two young children testified Boomer yelled curses for several minutes as they hurried away.
There's no doubt that Boomer was boorish. Rude. Crude. Uncouth. Uncivil. Ungracious. And his action was reprehensible. Proper justice would have been for his mother to hear about transgression, grab the 28-year-old by the scruff of the neck, drag him into the kitchen and wash his mouth out with soap.
What he did was wrong, but it wasn't, and shouldn't be, illegal.