ACLU Defends Right of Violinist to Perform on the Ocean City Boardwalk
April 11, 2013
CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555; email@example.com
BALTIMORE - Chagrined that once again the Town of Ocean City is blocking performers from entertaining visitors on the Boardwalk, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland today announced a challenge to an unconstitutional noise ordinance that has been silencing musicians. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Baltimore, is brought on behalf of William Hassay, Jr., an accomplished violinist who has played for families on the Boardwalk for nearly two decades. With the summer season fast approaching, the suit seeks a preliminary injunction to suspend enforcement of the ordinance while the case is under review.
"When will Ocean City officials learn that there doesn't have to be tension between protecting the free speech of performers and ensuring a good time for all on the Boardwalk?" said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "Bill Hassay has added beauty to the Boardwalk for nearly two decades, created memories for families, and taken pride in entertaining the public there. Summer is coming, and it's time to let the music play!"
Maryland's federal court has previously ruled that the Boardwalk is a public forum, meaning that the City may not place an undue burden on constitutionally protected speech. But in the summer of 2012, Hassay was threatened with arrest, up to three months imprisonment, and a $500 fine for playing his violin on the Boardwalk. Police were purportedly enforcing a noise ordinance that deems all music played on the Boardwalk from an instrument or device to be "unreasonably loud," and thus criminally prohibited, if it is "audible" from a distance of 30 feet.
The 30-foot audibility restriction on music violates the First Amendment. It also just makes no sense. The ACLU worked with an independent acoutiscal engineer who analyzed ambient sound at the Boardwalk and - to put the restriction in perspective - the jingling of a dog collar is audible more than 30 feet away on the Boardwalk. Thus, performers are effectively prohibited from playing any music that anyone could hear.
"All I want to do is play my music, and share the emotions, the joy and the romance of the violin with people on the Boardwalk," said Bill Hassay, Jr. "I hope to return to the Boardwalk this summer and once again help to create memories that vacationing families will long remember."
Ocean City has an unfortunate history of infringing on the rights of artists and performers. Most recently, the Town was sued in 2011 by spray paint artist Mark Chase, who successfully challenged an unduly restrictive permitting scheme for performers on the Boardwalk. And in 2009, Ocean City officials agreed to rescind an amplification ban for performers, after the ACLU challenged its unconstitutionality.
William Hassay, Jr. is represented by attorneys Jonathan P. Guy, Kathleen A. Orr, and James W. Burke, of Washington, D.C.'s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, who are all working pro bono, as well as ACLU of Maryland legal director Deborah Jeon.