ST. LOUIS • A federal district judge has cleared the way for performers to take their acts to the streets of St. Louis without having to audition first, pay for a license or be restricted to a certain part of the city.
Judge Catherine D. Perry on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri to prevent the enforcement of ordinances restricting the performers.
A lawsuit by the ACLU challenged the constitutionality of the city’s street performer ordinances, which require a permit to perform. The court also ordered both sides to try to resolve the case through mediation by Sept. 30. If they fail to do so, the judge will consider a permanent injunction at trial.
The decision affects street musicians, mimes, jugglers, dancers, magicians and anyone else who wants to perform.
“St. Louis’ busking ordinances are as unwise as they are unconstitutional,” Tony Rothert, ACLU legal director for Eastern Missouri, said in a statement. “Besides detracting from a creative, vibrant and diverse city, the challenged ordinances are constitutionally defective.
“Artistic expression at public places is protected by the First Amendment,” Rothert said.
Jeffrey Mittman, the chapter’s executive director, said the First Amendment protects the “marketplace of ideas — from standard political discourse, to the leafleting of unpopular speech, to the performance of a beautiful song.”
Mayor Francis Slay’s office had no immediate response.
The city has regulated street performers since 1997, but last year the permit fees increased from $25 to $100 dollars.
The ACLU had argued in the federal suit that St. Louis’ ordinances violate the First and 14th Amendments because they use vague terms that could suppress artistic expression.
City officials had argued the ordinances were not unconstitutional and said further that the regulations only affected people performing for money.
“The ordinance seeks to balance competing needs on busy streets,” city spokesman Maggie Crane said when the suit was filed in May.
In her order, Perry wrote, “I conclude (the city’s) interests in maintaining public order and convenience can be better served by measures less intrusive on First Amendment freedoms.”
The suit was filed on behalf of street musicians Nick Pence and Frederick Walker.
Alderman Phyllis Young, whose district includes downtown, sponsored legislation in 1997 to allow artists and musicians to perform in most of the city. Before that, the city prohibited street performers.