Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Profane Definition:

Vulgar, crude, grossly offensive or insulting language.

Related Terms: Blasphemy

Historically, profane meant words that offended religion. For example, in the 1949 Alabama case, Tompson v State, the term profane was held to include irreverent words toward God or holy things; speaking or spoken, acting or acted, in manifest or implied contempt of sacred things; blasphemous. as in profane swearing. It was also further defined as any words importing an imprecation of divine vengeance.

Similarly,six years earlier, in the 1943 Pennsylvania case, Town of Torrington v. Taylor, written , spoken or acting in manifest or implied contempt of sacred things.

As late as 1978, these words of Justice Kelleher of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island in State v. Authelet:

"These courts have invariably held the word (profane) to mean any words importing an imprecation of divine vengeance or implying divine condemnation or irreverence toward God or holy things."

A better statement of the law, circa 2000, is this from Justice Ellington of the Court of Appeals of Washington in City of Bellevue v. Lorang:

"Courts construing the term profane have often given it its meaning of irreverence toward God or holy things. On the other hand, courts confronting a constitutional challenge tend to give the term its secular meaning, as referring to crude, vulgar, or grossly offensive speech....

"(O)f the two common usages for the term profane, the proper construction—and the one most likely to reflect actual legislative intent—is the secular one: vulgar, crude, insulting language."

Where profane is a relevant term of the law in a particular jurisdiction, it is often defined within a statute.


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