Cursing Canoeist' Sentenced to Community Service

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - A Michigan man known as the "cursing canoeist" for swearing in front of children after he tumbled from his canoe into the Rifle River last August was sentenced Monday to four days' community service and either pay a $75 fine or spend three days in jail.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, who are defending the case, said they would appeal the sentence.

Timothy Boomer, a 25-year old computer programmer, was convicted in June under a 102-year-old law that makes cursing in the presence of children a violation punishable by 90 days in jail or $100 fine.

The ACLU argued that Boomer's words were free speech protected by the First Amendment and asked the judge to throw out the case.

Conservatives also criticized the ruling, saying such an antiquated law couldn't be enforced objectively or judiciously.

"The problem is the law was written in a day and time when people didn't do these things. Today the amount of profanity reaching people through movies and television, books and magazines, and the Internet, clearly shows it's a law whose time has passed," John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, told after hearing of the sentencing Monday.

The law gives too much discretion to local officials to enforce, Whitehead said.

"It's too subjective. There may be a law you can write that would prohibit profanity, but I haven't seen one," Whitehead said.

District Judge Allen Yenior refused to throw out the case, however, saying there was a compelling community interest in protecting the morality of children.

Boomer was convicted of yelling a barrage of obscenities after his canoe overturned and dumped him into the Rifle River last August. A sheriff's deputy who was at the scene testified he heard Boomer explode in a barrage of profanity loud enough to be heard a quarter-mile away.

Michael Smith, 32, was also canoeing down the river with his wife and his children, a 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

Smith testified he heard Boomer shout the "f-word" 50 to 75 times in a span of several minutes.

"I was afraid for my family. My adrenaline was rushing, my hands were tingling, my wife was covering my daughter's ears and I was trying to get through there as fast as I could," Smith told the court.

Boomer didn't deny he used foul language after he fell in the river, but says he didn't know there were children nearby in the recreation area about 120 miles north of Detroit.

The judge put Boomer's sentence on hold while he appeals his conviction.