ACLU jumps in to support street musician silenced by city

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UPDATE: City of Howell suspends a portion of its noise ordinance on Monday, which allows Joseph Flanders to resume performing in front of the Dairy Queen (

I am one of those people who firmly believes that music makes the world go ’round. Whether it’s recorded or live, professional or amateur, there’s something about people making joyful noise that assures me there is hope left in the world.

Despite my lack of professional training (and, some would argue, lack of talent, too), I sing: Only at home or in my car, and only for my own personal enjoyment. My breaking out in song makes me feel inexplicably good and connected to something much greater than myself; it makes my kid cringe.

I enjoy music coming from storefronts in the summer. I love all kinds of music, and I am not offended by what I hear on elevators. I prefer bad music to none at all. I love that the farmers markets I frequent have musicians to fill the air and create ambiance.

In Howell, there are concerts at the courthouse throughout the summer. Special events have musicians performing outdoors throughout the festival season. I’ve been known to crank up the spooky music on Halloween.

In the spirit of all that is musical, I am hoping the City of Howell backs down and allows retired machinist Joseph Flanders to resume performing in front of the Dairy Queen on Grand River Avenue.

The city asked Flanders to quit playing his music earlier this summer, claiming that he violated the city’s noise ordinance and needed a permit to perform. Since then, Flanders has become a cause celebere, with stories in the local media and spreading beyond.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union has jumped into the fray, saying the city is violating Flanders’ right to free speech, laying out some pretty compelling arguments. You can read the ACLU letter in its entirety here.

The ACLU is asking the city to repeal the ordinance, saying that it is unconstitutional, not content neutral and vague.

I happen to think that street musicians are part of the fabric of a community rich in diversity and self-expression. Music performed on street corners is one of the charming aspects of life in a community. If people who live in or frequent Howell’s downtown wanted a quiet place to exist or shop, they’d spend their time in a township.

Here’s to hoping the city allows Joseph Flanders to perform again.

And remember this: We should all be thankful that it’s Flanders who wants to perform in public and not me.

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