Judge Temporarily Blocks Ocean City Noise Ordinance

Friday, Jul 5, 2013  |  Updated 12:50 PM EDT
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Judge Temporarily Blocks Ocean City Noise Ordinance

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Performers can return to the Ocean City boardwalk without fear of a citation after a federal judge put the town's noise ordinance on hold.

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday in a case challenging the ordinance. The town has an interest in protecting people from unwelcome noise, Hollander said, but its method is too broad.

``In effect, the 30-foot audibility restriction is tantamount to a complete ban on the use of musical instruments and amplified sound on the boardwalk,'' Hollander wrote.

``I do not question the legitimacy of defendants' (Ocean City's) interest in restricting excessive noise on the boardwalk,'' she added in issuing a preliminary injunction. ``But the means employed by Ocean City to achieve its goals reach far broader than necessary. The 30-foot audibility restriction, which categorically prohibits music played at the level of most normal human activity, is not narrowly tailored to prevent excessive noise.''

Mayor Rick Meehan testified that the ordinance was aimed at stores that play loud music to attract customers, not performers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is suing the town on behalf of violinist William Hassay Jr., alleging the ordinance violates his right to free speech. Hassay had been playing acoustic melodies on his violin with accompaniment from a boom box since 1995, but stopped last year when a police officer told him to turn down the volume or face possible punishment of up to three months in prison and a $500 fine.

Hassay is glad the judge saw things his way.

``The words `First Amendment rights' do actually have meaning,'' he said. ``I can't wait to be back on the Boardwalk and play `Bad Moon Rising' as the moon rises out of the ocean.''
 

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