"The T-shirt shops are pretty gross," said Farrington. "Always something vulgar right there out front. Makes it difficult when you have kids that can read."

Farrington said she couldn't recall hearing foul language on the boardwalk.

Meehan said that stores, too, have a right to freedom of speech. While the town cannot bar stores from selling risque T-shirts, he has asked retailers to move offensive wares to the backs of their shops.

"A few years ago when I became mayor, I walked down the boardwalk and talked to every owner," he said. Meehan said stores have become "significantly better" about keeping such shirts away from the eyes of casual passersby.

Ocean City has had to walk a fine line when it comes to the First Amendment. Two years ago, the town dropped rules that restricted street performers after a spray-paint artist argued in federal court that permit requirements stepped on his constitutional rights.

Meehan said that profanity is not the only thing he's looking to curb at the beach this season.

He and the council will be taking up the issue next month of a possible smoking ban on the beach and boardwalk. The ban was first proposed during a strategic planning session for the town last year and is a "priority issue" for city leaders, he said.

"You see it happening in other areas," Meehan said. "We all recognize the dangers of smoking, secondhand smoke and the environmental consequences of cigarette butts on our beaches."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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