ACLU Files First Amendment Lawsuit Over Street Performers

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
June 29, 2000 12:00 am

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HONOLULU, HI — Acting on behalf of street performers and a religious organization, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i today filed suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of a new city and county law that severely limits First Amendment rights.

“No matter how the city couched the ordinance,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Dan Foley, “it is in effect a virtual ban on protected speech in Waikiki.”

The lawsuit says that Ordinance 00-88 would–the effective date is in the following paragraph ban religious, political and artistic expression in almost all of Waikiki for all individuals. Actions such as reciting biblical passages on the street corner, singing patriotic songs, chanting slogans against government and sitting on a public bench strumming the guitar would be banned under the terms of the ordinance.

The ACLU has asked the state court for a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of the new law until the court can determine its constitutionality. A hearing on the restraining order is expected prior to the ordinance’s effective date of July 12, 2000.

Under the new law, anyone who wants to engage in free expression in Waikiki will have to apply a month in advance for a permit for one of six remote locations. With the exception of performances that “promote a Hawaiian sense of Place,” people outside of the individuals or groups who happen to have permits at any given time are prohibited from free expression. “Telling someone that they can sing a Hawaiian song, but not a religious hymn, is absolutely unconstitutional,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii.

The City Council cited ensuring pedestrian safety as its chief motivation in passing the new law, which was largely supported by the business community. But the ACLU argues that the city’s supposed concern for public safety is overblown.

“No evidence of a single injury caused by street performers in Waikiki was ever presented to the City Council,” the ACLU’s White explained. “Moreover, the City simply cannot support the proposition that it is safe to sing Hawaiian songs, but not other types of songs.”

The ACLU’s clients include Steve Sunn, a musician who has been playing the saxophone in Waikiki for twenty years under the name of Sonny Beethoven,; Steve Williams, a street magician, and Shawn Kawelo who leads the Greater Mount Zion Holiness Church youth group to Waikiki every other Friday where they sing, and recite the Bible, and preach as a means of spreading their religious message.

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