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Judge Declares Ocean City Noise Ordinance A Burden On Free Speech

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Musicians are allowed to play their tunes on Ocean City's boardwalk again... for now, at least.
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Musicians are allowed to play their tunes on Ocean City's boardwalk again... for now, at least.

Bill Hassey Jr. hasn't been able to play his violin on the boardwalk since last summer when he was threatened with a fine and three months in jail for apparently violating the town's noise ordinance.

But last week, Judge Ellen Hollander granted a preliminary injunction stating that Ocean City can't enforce the 30-foot noise rule because it imposes a burden on free speech. The injunction now allows Hassey Jr. to snag his old spot on the boards and play his music for spare change for passersby.

He says he felt a new sense of stage fright. "For the first hour, I was real apprehensive," he says. "What's going to happen, am I going to be accosted by the police again immediately... it's a possibility."

And while that hasn't happened yet, he says the attention of this case, spearheaded by the ACLU of Maryland has brought something else back to the boardwalk and the music.

"One of my fellow buskers here mentioned to me that in the last week the boardwalk has come alive again," he says. "There's music coming from the shops, there's music on the boardwalk from buskers, and people have a kick in their step and a smile on their face that they didn't have a week ago."

Mayor Rick Meehan testified in court that the town's noise law was meant to regulate noise coming from boardwalk shops more so than from boardwalk musicians. He says he hopes the strained relationship between the town and the street performers will get better soon.

But for now, Bill Hassey Jr. says he's right back to where he wants to be — on the Ocean City boardwalk, playing his violin for tourists, hoping they'll drop some spare change in his bucket.

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