Policy Documents

Boardwalk Violinist vs. City Hall: Challenging Ocean City's Noise Ban

Joshua Swain –
August 22, 2013

Reason TV does some original reporting in this piece that notes:

Ocean City, Maryland is known for a bustling boardwalk that's packed with the sights, smells, and sounds of summer.

The city's leaders, however, felt the noise was becoming too much to bear and approved an ordinance prohibiting anyone from being audible from more than 30 feet away while on the boardwalk. Mayor Rick Meehan tells Reason that the goal was "to ensure that everybody had an opportunity to enjoy Ocean City."

But that wasn't how William Hassay saw it after being hassled by cops. Hassay has been entertaining passersby for almost 20 years by playing his violin for tips. "I was told I would be cited and that I would be subjected to face jail time," he says.

So Hassay reached out to the ACLU of Maryland to defend his right to play music. "The distance limitation that Ocean City choose was so restrictive," James Burke, a lawyer on Hassay's case explains. "All sorts of sounds are audible at 30 feet." A judge granted a preliminary injunction against the noise ban, though Meehan says the city will rewrite the law.

Hassay hopes the preliminary injunction will keep other cities from considering ultra-restrictive noise ordinances that will not only rob citizens of sweet music but other forms of free expression. "If I do lose," he says, "the meaning of [it goes] far beyond playing on the boardwalk."