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Is cursing on the Oceanfront illegal?

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Posted at 9:11 PM, Jun 12, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-12 21:58:40-04

Utter an expletive and you're breaking the law, right?

That's what signs at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront seem to imply.

And many tourists say they appreciate them.

“I think it`s a good thing, especially when you get all the teenagers different ages here I think it`s a good thing,” says Sheryl Saunders, a tourist.

But while families may like the atmosphere they create, are they actually enforceable by police?

“The signs we`re speaking about down at the Oceanfront, those are courtesy signs to remind people you`re in a friendly, family atmosphere and you know just be careful what you`re saying, yelling out,” says MPO Jimmy Barnes.

So swear when you stub your toe or let out a curse word cruising down the street, you're not going to be charged – it's free speech.

There is, however, a city ordinance that does make cursing illegal.  In certain situations, it's also in the Virginia state code.

“If I direct it at a person and I try to incite you to a fight or fighting words then that`s going to be disorderly conduct , or you could be arrested or charged with various other things at that point,” says Barnes.

That includes the law about abusive language which in Virginia Beach, is a class three misdemeanor. Offenders won’t serve any jail time, but it can come with a hefty fine of up to $500.

But when it comes down to it, very few people are charged.

Citations aren't given out very often, in a city with more than 400,000 people and even more tourists, only 25 people were cited in the past year.