Sometimes the ACLU-DE gets to work on fun projects—like protecting the right of a street performer to play his guitar in Trolley Square. That was the case recently, when the Wilmington Police came down a little too hard on John Crowley and he turned to us for help.
Legal director, Rich Morse researched the city’s “Busking Ordinance” and decided that the rules were problematic from a constitutional standpoint on a number of counts.
And just so you know—the word busker is primarily British and means “to entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place.” The City of Wilmington uses the term “itinerant performer,” but I like busker better.
The constitutional issues involved are these:
- The current city law requires that the performer “will be reviewed for appropriate content;”
- Performers are strictly limited to downtown Wilmington; and
- A sign used by performers must be approved in advance by a city committee and is “loaned” by the city for the duration of the performance.
Rich’s response to this was: “According to the U.S. Supreme Court, with very narrow exceptions, the government may not regulate speech on the basis of its content.” He also claimed that the city could not limit busking to only one area of the city and that the sign rules were to vague and put inappropriate limits on speech.
For now, the City of Wilmington is letting Crowley perform while they review the city ordinance and make changes. John Rago, a spokesman for the mayor, says that the city wants to encourage, not restrict, street performers.
I’m glad to hear it. Wilmington definitely needs more buskers!