OCEAN CITY – The debate between the town of Ocean City and the local busking community seemingly got a new player in the conversation this week: The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
In a letter written to Ocean City Council President Joe Mitrecic and Mayor Rick Meehan, ACLU Legal Director Deborah A. Jeon stated that the organization takes umbrage with the town’s “no amplification” rule for Boardwalk Street Performers.
“We are concerned with the constitutionality of the Ordinance’s permitting scheme in light of recent legal development invalidating a comparable requirement as unconstitutional”, said Jeon’s letter; “more immediately, we are troubled by the new law’s amplification ban, about which the ACLU has received several complaints.”
The letter goes on to site numerous court cases in which street performers have been protected under the 1st Amendment; from last months ruling in favor of street performers in a Seattle, Washington appellate court to a 1995 ruling in Markowitz vs. Mayor and City Council of Ocean City in which federal court found that the Boardwalk was a public forum and the town could not regulate expression in a way that could place substantial burden on constitutionally protected free speech.
Jeon’s letter asks for Mayor and Council to reconsider and repeal parts of the ordinance that ban amplification and hopes that the town will just add more enforcement to the city’s existing noise laws.
“The existing Ocean City noise ordinance could just as effectively serve the city’s interests without prohibiting the outright use of amplification and electronic sound systems”, said the letter, “The burden imposed on street performers by this prohibition is a direct infringement on their First Amendment rights.”
Last week, Council granted an exception to Robert Peaslee, a handicapped street performer, who doesn’t have the lung capacity to sing for extended periods of time without the aid of a amplified microphone, but Council ordered Peaslee to provide a doctor’s note, and asked City Solicitor Guy Ayres to write the exception as being one that coincided with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Jeon’s letter said that the ACLU was representing “several Ocean City street performers.”
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