North Myrtle Beach noise ordinance may violate rights, law professor says

Grand Strand

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The amendment passed in a noise ordinance in North Myrtle Beach may violate First Amendment rights, according to a constitutional law expert.

Monday night, North Myrtle Beach city council unanimously passed an ordinance that puts restrictions on “obscene, vulgar and/or profane lyrics.” Residents and tourists said vulgar music could be heard up to 10 blocks away from Main Street, offending some while pleasing others.

“I think anywhere where they have partying and they have bands out on the street — I mean that’s just what goes on,” Jane Foster a resident in North Myrtle Beach said.

Pat Dowling, spokesperson for the City of North Myrtle Beach said hundreds of complaints came in from both residents and tourists.

“It’s profane vulgar or obscene and I don’t want my kids and grandkids to have to listen to it while they’re walking down Main Street or eating an ice cream cone,” said Dowling as he described phone calls city council received.

He said the complaints started there this spring.

Under the new ordinance, music with “obscene, vulgar, or profane” lyrics cannot be played over 60 decibels from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and may not exceed 80 decibels from 7:01 a.m. to 10:59 p.m.

Experts compared 60 decibels to background music. Whereas, 80 decibels compares to a power lawnmower.

Coastal Carolina University professor Mikel Norris has a primary focus in constitutional law. He told News13 this part of the ordinance may violate First Amendment rights.

“The messages and the lyrics that they were doing — if they were being punished because of the message that would be an issue,” Norris said.

Dowling said the city council was legally advised to a large extent before passing the ordinance.

“Nobody is banning that kind of music. No one is barring somebody who wants to listen to it from going to a club. What the [ordinance] does is limits the decibel level so that it stays within that property,” Dowling said.

Businesses who violate the ordinance could face up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.

Mayor Marilyn Hatley told News13 the City of North Myrtle Beach is family-friendly, and passing the ordinance was the right decision.

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