North Myrtle Beach has built a solid reputation as a safe, enjoyable vacation destination for families.
But now North Myrtle Beach City Council must fight to preserve parts of the city as a safe environment. The city must brace itself for a tough fight.
At issue is loud music from a bar on Main Street in Ocean Drive that blasts music containing offensive language that can be heard by people nearby.
Reacting to complaints, NMB City Council is considering an ordinance that would require music with obscene, profane and vulgar language to be played at a lower volume than other music.
Council has given first reading to the ordinance, but it must pass two more readings before becoming law.
Even if North Myrtle Beach enacts the ordinance, it may not be enforceable.
Acccording to two legal experts, the ordinance is unconstitutional. This could signal a protracted legal battle.
Under the proposed ordinance, it would be illegal to play music containing obscene or vulgar language at levels exceeding 30 decibel between 7:01 a.m. and 10:59 p.m.
Thirty decibels is about as loud as a whisper, according to a chart provided by the City of North Myrtle Beach.
Mayor Marilyn Hatley said the city is considering the ordinance to maintain its reputation as a family beach.
“We have a noise ordinance, but this change will address just how loud vulgar music can be played in our community,” Hatley said. “We are a family beach. We have families that come here. We’ve always been known as a family beach and we want to continue to be a family beach.”
The city’s proposal defines profane as “to treat with irreverence or contempt, crude, filthy, dirty, smutty, or indecent” and defines vulgar as “making explicit and offensive reference to sex, male genitalia, female genitalia or bodily functions.”
However, First Amendment experts contacted by this newspaper said North Myrtle Beach would be violating the Constitution if it distinguishes music with vulgar or profance language from other music.
“You cannot single out content for greater regulation because of the message it’s communicating. That is clearly unconstitutional,” said Mary-Rose Papandrea of the University of North Carolina Law School.
She said the city cannot treat music differently from other speech simply because children may be present.
Ideally, the establishments playing music inappropiate for children to hear would voluntary stop playing it loud enough to be heard on Main Street.
Optionally, the ordinance under consideration could be modified to limit the decibel level for all music, not just that with objectionable lyrics.
Just threatening such a legislative solution might be enough to encourage establishments to play a more wholesale selection of music.
I know this. When I have my grandchildren at Ocean Drive to enjoy an evening out, I don’t want them hearing the filthy lyrics contained in some pop music. Nor do I want to hear them!