Truth, Justice, and the American way. TRUTH: Helping to correct people's misconceptions about history, science, and the state of the world. JUSTICE: Meant in the biblical sense. Fair treatment of other people, rational laws, and assisting the disadvantaged. THE AMERICAN WAY: A classless society where everybody has an opportunity to meet their potential and for economic advancement, regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Law Against Anmoying Behavior

As I was driving today, I heard a radio host (on KTLK 1050, Los Angeles) discussing a new law passed in a medium sized city in Michigan. The law bans annoying behavior. Since there is no way to define what is annoying, this law might be struck down by the courts (actually, they can apply it to one individual annoying another or they can use say that annoying behavior is any behavior that would annoy a "Reasonable person". Still, it gives police a blank check for annoying behavior of their own.

The host said (paraphrasing here) "I understand outlawing profanity and strong cologne, but how do you define annoying?" He then went on to discuss hearing frequent profanity from employees at McDonalds, while he had his young daughter with him.

There are several problems. First he used the word profanity, which means using the Lord's name in vain. He meant obscenity.These two words are often confused. Just as people often confuse pornography with obscenity.

The disturbing the peace laws already prohibit hate speech and other speech that is likely to lead to physical harm. In many locations, the law (or work rules) prohibit any behavior tht offends (not annoys) another person. Wearing strong cologne in an enclosed space also qualifies as a harmful act (for example, it can trigger asthma attacks).

The proper thing to do about obscenity in McDonalds is to speak to the manager. Obscenity on the job is not permitted in any respectable restaurant or store. McDonalds, inc. has strict rules about the use of obscenity where customers can hear it (Kruck made sure of that while he led the corporation). Since these are at-will, hourly employees they can be fired on the spot for such an offense. The manager will probably warn the staff, not fire anybody.

If you are offended by activity at a store or restaurant and have informd the manager, you can revisit the site and see if the problem has gone away. In the case of Mcdonalds, you have the right to return to the restaurant, buy a cup of coffee (or whatever), and listen for at least 15 minutes. You also have the right to observe behavior from the counter (which can help identify the misbehaving employees).

There are federal laws that prohibit exposure to high levels of airborne toxic compounds (such as those in most cologne). There are also workplace laws that can be applied. Nobody has to stand for strong cologne in an elevator where they work, just ask the boss to speak to the offender. As a customer, you have the right to speak to a manager.

I suspect the Annoyance Law was a way to clear beggars from the street. Since the supreme court has stated that begging and grifting are protected speech, cities have been trying to find other ways to "remove the problem." I doubt obscenity was on the minds of the city council members.

If an action (in public) offends you and would offend "a reasonable person," contact the appropriate authorities (be they police or managers). You don't have to stand for it. But if somebody just annoys you, they are probably not doing something illegal.

About Me

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Canoga Park, California, United States
Software Engineer with Ph.D. in Computer Science. I have a deep background in the sciences and in computer-human interaction. I was a college professor for 11 years, followed by over a decade of work in industry.