Civil Anarchy

Monica Baldwin, a member of Pro-Life Mississippi, an anti-abortion organization, sued the city on July 15 for its anti-noise ordinance that was stopping her organization from using a keyboard to play music at an anti-abortion rally at 2903 N. State Street. Baldwin was granted a temporary injunction the next day prohibiting police from enforcing the ordinance at the rally. The City Council voted Aug. 3 on an order that allows the city attorney to settle the case.

"We didn't have an objective way to monitor noise," City Council Vice President Margaret Barrett-Simon said at the meeting. "It's something cities across the country are dealing with or have dealt with."

"The question is if our noise ordinance is unconstitutionally vague. There is no objective standard for the policeman to decide where the line is unless we give them a standard: the noise ordinance in decibels," City attorney Paul Neville said. "The problem is the city will need to buy decibel meters, but it's a must for a constitutionally sound ordinance." Ridgeland Police carry decibel meters in their cars to regulate noise, but other metro-area cities lack any mode of regulating sound.

"My recommendation is to settle the case because we will surely lose and pay opposing counsel's fees and lose our time," Neville said. He seemed to feel that the vote would be a simple and easy pass.

However, Ward 1 Councilman Ben Allen had different feelings about Neville's recommendation. Allen, who regularly leans back in his chair, casually, with his face resting in his hand, sat up in front of his microphone and asked, "So the short answer is pro-life wanted to play loud music and our court put a restraining order against the ordinance and allowed them to go ahead with it?"

Allen added, "This is not so much a pro life/pro choice issue. If we settle, we are promoting civil anarchy. In this order, we are asked to approve an ordinance that says 'OK' to civil disorder."

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said, "There are other cities throughout the United States that say you can play loud noise in accordance with point A, B and C."

Vice President Margaret Barrett-Simon jumped in: "What happened to old fashioned 'disturbing the peace'?"

"Thank you," Allen returned, as Ward 5 Councilwoman Bettye Dagner-Cooke nodded her head in agreement.

"It is a case of prior restraint of free speech that is different than disturbing the peace," Neville explained, prompting Allen to jump back in.

"We are kicking a dead horse here; settling this case pushes the envelope of the spirit of the law." He said putting a decibel meter in every car was overkill. "We already have problems with radar guns not functioning," he said.

U.S. District Judge William Barbour has ruled that the city's noise ordinance isn't defined enough as it reads now. The ordinance states noise that "disturbs" the peace is prohibited.

The City Council passed the order unanimously.


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