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Opinion of the Court.
right of free speech in violation of the First Amendment which is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against State action. To use a loud-speaker or amplifier one has to get a permit from the Chief of Police. There are no standards prescribed for the exercise of his discretion. The statute is not narrowly drawn to regulate the hours or places of use of loud-speakers, or the volume of sound (the decibels) to which they must be adjusted. The ordinance therefore has all the vices of the ones which we struck down in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296; Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444; and Hague v. C.1.0., 307 U.S. 496.
In the Cantwell case a license had to be obtained in order to distribute religious literature. What was religious was left to the discretion of a public official. We held that judicial review to rectify abuses in the licensing system did not save the ordinance from condemnation on the grounds of previous restraint. Lovell v. Griffin, supra, held void on its face an ordinance requiring a license for the distribution of literature. That ordinance, like the present one, was dressed in the garb of the control of a "nuisance." But the Court made short shrift of the argument, saying that approval of the licensing system would institute censorship "in its baldest form." In Hague v. C. I. O., supra, we struck down a city ordinance which required a license from a local official for a public assembly on the streets or highways or in the public parks or public buildings. The official was empowered to refuse the permit if in his opinion the refusal would prevent “riots, disturbances or disorderly assemblage.” We held that the ordinance was void on its face because it could be made “the instrument of arbitrary suppression of free expression of views on national affairs.". 307 U. S. p. 516.
The present ordinance has the same defects. The right to be heard is placed in the uncontrolled discretion of the
Opinion of the Court.
Chief of Police. He stands athwart the channels of communication as an obstruction which can be removed only after criminal trial and conviction and lengthy appeal. A more effective previous restraint is difficult to imagine. Unless we are to retreat from the firm positions we have taken in the past, we must give freedom of speech in this case the same preferred treatment that we gave freedom of religion in the Cant well case, freedom of the press in the Griffin case, and freedom of speech and assembly in the Hague case.?
Loud-speakers are today indispensable instruments of effective public speech. The sound truck has become an accepted method of political campaigning. It is the way people are reached. Must a candidate for governor or the Congress depend on the whim or caprice of the Chief of Police in order to use his sound truck for campaigning?
2 Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U. S. 569, 577–578, did not depart from the rule of these earlier cases but re-emphasized the vice of the type of ordinance we have here. Davis v. Massachusetts, 167 U. S. 43, was distinguished in the Hague case, 307 U. S. pp. 514-516, which likewise involved an ordinance regulating the use of public streets and parks. It was there said, “We have no occasion to determine whether, on the facts disclosed, the Davis case was rightly decided, but we cannot agree that it rules the instant case. Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens. The privilege of a citizen of the United States to use the streets and parks for communication of views on national questions may be regulated in the interest of all; it is not absolute, but relative, and must be exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order; but it must not, in the guise of regulation, be abridged or denied."
We adhere to that view. Though the statement was that of only three Justices, it plainly indicated the route the majority followed, who on the merits did not consider the Davis case to be controlling.
FRANKFURTER, J., dissenting.
Must he prove to the satisfaction of that official that his noise will not be annoying to people?
The present ordinance would be a dangerous weapon if it were allowed to get a hold on our public life. Noise can be regulated by regulating decibels. The hours and place of public discussion can be controlled. But to allow the police to bar the use of loud-speakers because their use can be abused is like barring radio receivers because they too make a noise. The police need not be given the power to deny a man the use of his radio in order to protect a neighbor against sleepless nights. The same is true here.
Any abuses which loud-speakers create can be controlled by narrowly drawn statutes. When a city allows an official to ban them in his uncontrolled discretion, it sanctions a device for suppression of free communication of ideas. In this case a permit is denied because some persons were said to have found the sound annoying. In the next one a permit may be denied because some people find the ideas annoying. Annoyance at ideas can be cloaked in annoyance at sound. The power of censorship inherent in this type of ordinance reveals its vice.
Courts must balance the various community interests in passing on the constitutionality of local regulations of the character involved here. But in that process they should be mindful to keep the freedoms of the First Amendment in a preferred position. See Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 509.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, with whom MR. JUSTICE REED and MR. JUSTICE BURTON concur, dissenting.
The appellant's loud-speakers blared forth in a small park in a small city. The park was about 1,600 feet
1 The last census gave the population of Lockport as 24,379.
FRANKFURTER, J., dissenting.
long and from 250 to 400 feet wide. It was used primarily for recreation, containing benches, picnic and athletic facilities, and a children's wading pool and playground. Estimates of the range of the sound equipment varied from about 200 to 600 feet. The attention of a large fraction of the area of the park was thus commanded.
The native power of human speech can interfere little with the self-protection of those who do not wish to listen. They may easily move beyond earshot, just as those who do not choose to read need not have their attention bludgeoned by undesired reading matter. And so utterances by speech or pen can neither be forbidden nor licensed, save in the familiar classes of exceptional situations. Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444; Hague v. C. I. O., 307 U. S. 496; Schneider v. Irvington, 308 U. S. 147; Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U. S. 568. But modern devices for amplifying the range and volume of the voice, or its recording, afford easy, too easy, opportunities for aural aggression. If uncontrolled, the result is intrusion into cherished privacy. The refreshment of mere silence, or meditation, or quiet conversation, may be disturbed or precluded by noise beyond one's personal control.
Municipalities have conscientiously sought to deal with the new problems to which sound equipment has given rise and have devised various methods of control to make city life endurable. See McIntire and Rhyne, Radio and Municipal Regulations (National Institute of Municipal Law Officers, Report No. 62, 1940) pp. 28 et seq. Surely there is not a constitutional right to force unwilling people to listen. Cf. Otto, Speech and Freedom of Speech, in Freedom and Experience (Edited by Hook and Konvitz, 1947) 78, 83 et seq. And so I cannot agree that we must deny the right of a State to control these broadcasting devices so as to safeguard the rights of
FRANKFURTER, J., dissenting.
others not to be assailed by intrusive noise but to be free to put their freedom of mind and attention to uses of their own choice.
Coming to the facts of the immediate situation, I cannot say that it was beyond constitutional limits to refuse a license to the appellant for the time and place requested. The State was entitled to authorize the local authorities of Lockport to determine that the well-being of those of its inhabitants who sought quiet and other pleasures that a park affords, outweighed the appellant's right to force his message upon them. Nor did it exceed the bounds of reason for the chief of police to base his decision refusing a license upon the fact that the manner in which the license had been used in the past was destructive of the enjoyment of the park by those for whom it was maintained. That people complained about an annoyance would seem to be a pretty solid basis in experience for not sanctioning its continuance.
Very different considerations come into play when the free exercise of religion is subjected to a licensing system whereby a minor official determines whether a cause is religious. This was the problem presented by Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, and of course we held that "Such a censorship of religion as the means of determining its right to survive is a denial of liberty protected by the First Amendment and included in the liberty which is within the protection of the Fourteenth.” 310 U. S. at 305. To determine whether a cause is, or is not, “religious” opens up too wide a field of personal judgment to be left to the mere discretion of an official. As to the allowable range of judgment regarding the scope of “religion,” see Judge Augustus N. Hand in United States v. Kauten, 133 F.2d 703, 708. The matter before us is of quite a different order. It is not unconstitutional for a State to vest in a public official the determination of what is in effect a nuisance merely because