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EDITORIAL: ACLU wrong on taps
When the Glen Rock Borough Council told Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Carney he had to limit his broadcast of taps to Sundays and flag holidays, the American Civil Liberties Union noticed.
Corney has been playing taps nightly for about two years as a tribute to his fellow members of the military. At 7:57 p.m. each day, the bugle call can be heard from the loudspeakers Corney has installed on his property. People say they can hear it more than a mile away.
But after complaints that he was violating the borough's noise ordinance, the Glen Rock Borough Council decided on a good compromise, allowing Corney to play his recording of the bugle call at 8 p.m. Sundays and flag holidays. A crowd of supporters gathered at his driveway on July 4 to listen to the broadcast.
But that compromise wasn't good enough for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
"Glen Rock Borough's censorship of Lt. Cmdr. Corney's playing of taps while allowing lawn mowers, 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. Cmdr. Corney has the constitutional right to offer his meaningful tribute every day to his fellow service members from his own home," he added.
The ACLU consistently stands up for free speech issues, which is necessary and a worthy cause. The problem here is that the group seems to be attacking the right of a municipality to enforce a noise ordinance, and saying municipalities have to let everyone make any amount of noise they want in the name of free speech.
It's not about the content of the noise, it's about the noise itself. It bothers some residents. And if someone were having a party every night at 8 p.m. that everyone could hear — or playing thrash metal rock and roll — every night for one minute, you can bet that would be not just curtailed, but stopped.
And no one would disagree because they aren't emotionally attached to thrash metal as they are to a bugle call that is associated with patriotism.
In this case, Corney has been told that since he installed loudspeakers about a year ago, his daily music ritual is too loud. What's more, his neighbors are afraid to speak out against it because some people view the nightly playing of taps as an act of patriotism.
When the borough council came up with the compromise that allows Corney to broadcast his music on certain days, we praised that decision. Now, under threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU, the council has allowed Corney to play taps nightly until it discusses the issue again on July 19.
We hope the council stands firm. The compromise was a good one. Corney is allowed to play his amplified bugle call every Sunday and on the holidays that honor the flag and those who have fought for it.
No one is telling Corney he can't play taps in his home every night. As long as the sound is at reasonable levels, he can play it constantly if he wants, just as every other person in Glen Rock can play any music they want inside their homes 24 hours a day.
But the ACLU seems to be questioning whether municipalities can regulate noise in general, and we think that's unreasonable. The issue here isn't the message Corney is sending; it's about volume and frequency.
If the borough's noise ordinance is too vague, the council needs to correct it. But municipalities need a way to make sure all residents have a certain quality of life, and that means protecting them from unreasonable, loud, frequent noise.
Free speech doesn't mean forcing everyone for miles around to listen to you every day, no matter what the message is. Sorry, ACLU, you're on the wrong side this time.