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West Chester “Street Performing” Law

by Daniel Brouse

WEST CHESTER, PA — On August 2, a public hearing was held at the West Chester Borough Hall. The hearing was intended to be for the proposed “Busking Ordinance“; however, just hours before the meeting, the Busking Ordinance was thrown out and a new proposed “Street Performing” ordinance appeared on the borough website. The new ordinance changed “reading” to “reading aloud” and removed sidewalk chalk art. The borough’s attorney said chalk art was removed because a 2-year-old drawing dinosaurs could be found in violation.

Street Performing– Includes, but is not limited to, the following activities: acting, singing, playing musical instruments, pantomime, juggling, magic, dancing, reading aloud, puppetry and reciting.

Boycott-Malena's, West Chester, Gay Church

Boycott-Malena’s, West Chester, Gay Church

A large crowd of citizens opposed to any ordinance that would restrict the First Amendment filled council chambers. There appeared to be only one person in attendance that supported the proposed ordinance, Malena Martinez. Martinez, owner of the business “Malena’s” at the corner of Gay and Church Streets, said she finds the performances to be annoying.

Contrary to Malena’s opinion were a wide array of artists and fans of the arts. A borough resident presented a petitions with pages of unsolicited signatures of people against any ordinance that would regulate the arts. The signatures were collected at the corner of Gay and Church Streets and included world-class musicians, politicians and supporters of the arts. “We love hearing you play,” was a common comment made by the signatories. One petitioner said he takes a day-trip just to come to the businesses in West Chester because of the street performers.

“It’s an attack on free speech and First Amendment rights in many respects,” said Oliver Kocher, a borough musician. “To try to stifle other people simply because you don’t like what they have to say really isn’t appropriate. People are out there promoting art and promoting culture and it seems to me this is a direct attempt to stifle the display and dispersion of people’s art.” Oliver went on to say, “I am a whistler. Sometimes I don’t even know that I’m whistling when I walk down the street. Under the ordinance, I might be found in violation.”

Tom Wagner, one of the area’s finest lawyers and musicians, explained how the ordinance would be in violation of the Constitution. Any such ordinance would result in an injunction and lengthy court battle for the borough.

Resident Phil LaRue pointed out that there are already enough laws on the books to accomplish the goals of the proposed ordinance.

Several others in attendance also voiced their disapproval of the ordinance. In fact, there were so many people that wanted to speak out against the ordinance that another public hearing was scheduled. None of the council members in attendance appeared to be in favor of the ordinance, so the hearing was postponed until September 21 at 6PM.

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