Sunday, December 31, 2017

2001 Ed Slavin letter re: City of St. Augustine's loony laws -- unconstitutional anti-artist ordinances (SAR)

Bruce Kevin Bates, twice-prevailing plaintiff in First Amendment litigation against City of St. Augustine, Florida. (HCN).

History has proven us right. Visual artists have won twice in federal court in 2009 and 2016-2017 (Bates v. City of St. Augustine I & II).

Our streets are still "not lively," as Mayor Nancy Shaver said in 2015. Panhandlers have taken the place of buskers.

In 2018, let's restore artists and musicians to their rightful place on St. George Street.

Letter: Let's not repeat history
Edward A. Slavin Jr.
St. Augustine
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2001
St. Augustine Record

Are we condemned to repeat history? In 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led demonstrations against an old St. Augustine ''tradition'' -- ''Jim Crow'' segregation. The demonstrators were right. The city was wrong. History celebrates Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

On April 1, some 100 people demonstrated against the city ordinance persecuting St. George Street artists under penalty of criminal laws. That's equal to 1 percent of the city's registered voters; some elections turn on thinner margins. The ill-advised city and manager ignore ''public opinion'' from visitors and residents alike (March 20). On April 1, The Record called for a negotiated settlement of the artist ordinance before it gets to court. That's wise advice. Losing repeatedly in the courts, the city should ''drop the oyster and leave the wharf.'' Do it now -- before the city's shame is permanently engraved in law books, along with Supreme Court decisions forever placing the stain of human rights violations on Jacksonville and Boca Raton.

Jacksonville's loony laws led to a wonderful U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Papachristou vs. city of Jacksonville, banning unconstitutional ''void-for-vagueness'' laws against ''vagrancy'' (or anything else). Justice William O. Douglas wrote the court's 1972 opinion, a monument to the genius of a free people.

A city of Boca Raton manager sexually harassed a woman lifeguard; Boca burghers unwisely appealed from a small judgment. The result in 1998: the leading Supreme Court precedent on ''hostile working environments.'' After its harasser and co-ed lifeguard locker room made history, Boca removed the lifeguard HQ sign, but not the permanent taint to Boca's name.

Once tour trains operators were harassed. Who's next? St. Augustine's ''historical'' area was long home to ''buskers.'' ''Buskers'' have a legal ''right to exist,'' just like Israel (which only a few terrorists now deny). ''Buskers'' are part of our wonderful town. Shop owners should not look down their noses at buskers, but salute them and celebrate diversity. As JFK said, ''a rising tide lifts all boats.''

Inside the Castillo? Federal property, not city streets. Colonial Williamsburg? Quite a contrast: no T-shirt shops, hundreds paid to work in costume by a mega-foundation with fat management salaries, high prices charged to enter restored buildings. Williamsburg pushed to charge admission to people walking city streets inside Williamsburg; that effort failed. Williamsburg requires anyone conducting history tours to pass an ''official history'' test (with a loophole for Williamsburg employees but not volunteers). Moonlighting Williamsburg volunteers risk arrest if they lead bus tourists for pay and ''deviate'' from the ''official history'' syllabus (talking about the Civil War?) or fail to report a tourist for violating city, state or federal laws. Sadly, no proud Virginian sued over Williamsburg's hysterical lawmaking and ''official history.''

St. Augustine is more human(e): citizens will not rest while our city violates anyone's rights. Saint Augustine said, ''An unjust law is no law at all.'' Jesus said: ''That which you do to the least of my brothers (and sisters), you do unto me.''

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