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ACLU threatens lawsuit over Glen Rock taps restriction
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania warned the Glen Rock Borough Council on Wednesday that it faces a federal lawsuit if it continues to restrict former Councilman Joshua Corney's taps playing.
"Glen Rock Borough's censorship of Lt. Commander Corney's playing of taps while allowing lawnmowers, church bells, concerts, motor vehicles and many other noises customarily heard in the town that are even louder and last longer violates the First Amendment," ACLU of Pennsylvania's legal director Witold Walczak said in a news release.
"Lt. Commander Corney has the constitutional right to offer his meaningful tribute every day to his fellow service members from his own home," he added.
Corney had been playing taps through speakers outside his home for the past two years. At its June 21 meeting, the council found Corney was in violation of the borough's noise ordinance and voted to limit his music to Sunday's and "Flag Holidays" — July 4, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Flag Day and Patriots Day.
Lawsuit: The ACLU said a letter was sent to Council President Doug Young warning of possible litigation if the council does not cease the restrictions on Corney's music.
In the letter, the ACLU asked the borough to come up with a resolution by 5 p.m. Friday.
If the borough does not respond, the ACLU will take "appropriate and necessary legal action" on Corney's behalf.
Reached by email Wednesday afternoon, Young said because of the potential for litigation, the borough is not able to comment.
Corney said he appreciates the ACLU's support and that he looks forward to the council's decision.
First flag holiday: On Tuesday night, a small group of about a dozen people wearing patriotic colors gathered in front of Corney's Glen Avenue home. All of them stopped talking at exactly 8 p.m. as taps played through Corney's sound system.
"It took all I could not to cry again," Glen Rock resident Linda Engler said after hearing the music.
Tuesday was the first holiday Corney could play taps from his speakers since the borough council decided he was violating the borough's noise ordinance and voted to limit the practice.
Corney has said he told himself that if he made it home safe and sound from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would play taps daily.
Taps: Engler, whose family has a long history in the military, said she was mad when she found out that the council was limiting taps. Engler said she always stops when she hears the 57-second-long recording of taps playing.
"It means a lot to the whole community," she said.
Engler, a lifelong resident of Glen Rock, said she didn't find the music disrupting.
"This is a tradition that needs to continue," she said.
Charles McWilliams, Corney's next-door neighbor, served in the Navy from 1950 to 1955. He said hearing the music makes him feel good, and it means "everything" to him.
"If I don't hear it, I miss it," he said.
He said people from outside Glen Rock can't appreciate it like residents can, adding that people were used to hearing it.
"You really look forward to it," he said.
George Brown, of Glen Rock, said he can barely hear it from where he lives. Still, like McWilliams, Brown looked forward to it nightly. He said it's a good way to show respect to those who served.
"It's a patriotic thing to do, and that someone would find offense in that, I find distressing," he said.
Corney, who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, greeted the crowd at the bottom of his driveway while on crutches.
"I'm glad that they were able to come out and show support," he said.
Statement: Last Friday, the borough issued a statement regarding the decision.
The council reiterated that the nightly amplified playing of taps violated the noise ordinance and that the council tried to find a compromise because of the "sensitivity and personal nature of the subject matter."
Additionally, the council stated that its decision was not "anti-American."
"In no way is the Council’s decision a reflection of anti-American beliefs or a lack of respect for those who serve our country and in no way is the decision of Council a commentary on their feelings regarding Taps," the statement reads in part.
"(The statement) was put out to set the record straight because there are a lot of rumors and misinformation out there," Young said in an email Friday.
An online petition was started in support of Corney's nightly playing, and as of Wednesday afternoon it had collected more than 4,300 signatures.
In addition to the online petition, a Facebook group was set up to support his cause. Nearly 400 people have joined the group since Friday. A GoFundMe page also was set up to help with any legal fees he might incur.
Corney said he resigned from the council on June 27. He declined to say why he resigned, but added that he received "no threats or intimidation" from anyone.
The next borough council meeting is 7 p.m. July 19.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.