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The Wasatch Behind: The end of civility

Guest Contributor

I was in one of our area's big box stores a few weeks ago with my wife and a couple of young granddaughters. We were having a good time. But then, a couple of isles ahead of us, I spotted a very large, four-lettered "F" word on the back of a T-shirt. My dear wife was shopping and didn't see what I saw, and thank goodness my baby granddaughters can't read. I left the girls with grandma and went to investigate.

The porno-guy looked like a typical government entitlement case with long blond hair, baggy pants and the usual accoutrements of immature youth, even though he appeared to be in his early 30s.

I approached the offending man-child and asked, "Are you starved for attention or just waiting for someone to call the cops?"

"What?" he said with a look of surprise.

I told him his T-shirt was offensive and he really ought to have more self-respect than to wear something like that in public.

He told me the bad word was from the lyrics of a song.

I told him I didn't care if the word came from the charter of the United Nations. It was offensive.

The guy then surprised me by apologizing.

It's a good thing he apologized. Had he decided to fight he'd probably have cleaned my clock. I am, after all, an old man with a bad back. Besides, I never was much of a scrapper.

I didn't feel qualified to accept his apology on behalf of everyone in the store. So I simply told him to think about it and reconsider before doing something like that again.

As we parted ways, I watched him walk away with his girlfriend, or wife, who looked angry as she took his arm in a public display of incredibly bad taste in men.

My blood pressure was still up, so I talked with two of the store managers. I asked them if they had a policy about letting people in their store wearing obscene material like that. Both managers told me they couldn't do anything about it. They said they have no control over what people wear in their store. I told them they were full of crap. There is a long established precedent in this country that allows businesses to refuse service to anyone who poses a threat or demonstrates unacceptable standards of dress or behavior.

What has happened to us? Is this something we are willing to accept as normal? There were hundreds of people in that store that day, but I didn't see anyone else act as if they even noticed that guy and his in-your-face insult to all of us. Everyone went about their business like a herd of submissive, neutered sheep. I don't think we're still the same nation that fought the British Empire over a matter of principle.

In telling this story, I've had people who are smarter than me tell me I was out-of-line. They tell me I was provoking a confrontation and if things had gone south it would have been my fault. I'm the one who would have been arrested. The courts would surely decide in favor of the man who was simply expressing his constitutional right to free speech, no matter how offensive.

But then, we can't have prayer anymore at high school commencement ceremonies or football games because one person might be offended. We can't have the Ten Commandments on the courthouse steps because one person might be offended. We can't have a nativity scene in the city park at Christmas time because one person might be offended.

I'm one person. I'm offended by obscenities in public places.

What happened to my rights?

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