Recognize, though we might, the potential perils posed by mimes, it's hard to believe that they, or any other public performers, require much in the way of regulation to protect their audiences. Unfortunately, St. Louis officials disagree, and mandate auditions and licenses for street performers before they can take their stylings before an audience. That's right, public employees sit in judgment on artists before they're allowed to risk humiliation with their mimery, mummery and pan flute-playing in hopes of a buck or two tossed in a hat. And yes, they have to pay for the privilege: $100 each.
Two performers filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming a St. Louis ordinance unconstitutionally requires an audition and license for street musicians, mimes, jugglers, dancers, magicians and perhaps anyone who wants to play a radio outdoors.
The complaint alleges that the so-called busking ordinance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments with vague terms that outlaw “a substantial amount of expressive activity.”
Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs, claimed the law could cover “you singing along to the radio in your car.”
Mike Hulsey, the apparatchik in charge of permits (and alleged drummer), claims he initiated auditions, “because I ultimately have to answer the phones, and complaints end up on my desk.” Of course, they wouldn't be on his desk if the city didn't try to regulate performers.
Maybe St. Louis just isn't an amusement-friendly town. Street performances were completely illegal until 1997.
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