ACLU Threatens Suit After Pennsylvania Town Says Naval Officer’s Nightly Taps Routine Is A Nuisance

Can a town stop someone from playing a military bugle call because they think it’s annoying? The ACLU doesn’t think so.

Active-duty naval officer Joshua Corney played a recording of taps each night from his home in rural south-central Pennsylvania. (“Taps” is a one-minute bugle call played at various military ceremonies and at dusk on military bases.) After some time, neighbors complained that Corney’s nightly ritual was disturbing. Eventually, the town council wrote him to say his broadcast of taps violated its nuisance ordinance, and he had to limit the ritual to Sundays and “flag” holidays.

Lieutenant Commander Joshua Corney

The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the council arguing that its threat against Corney violated his First Amendment rights. The letter pointed out that the town has, apparently, not enforced this ordinance against anyone else.

Generally, the government can’t ban speech because private parties find it annoying; that’s a classic “heckler’s veto.” Think about church bells or people on loudspeakers. Unless Corney’s taps ritual was really loud (for example, above the town’s decibel limit as defined in its nuisance ordinance), the ACLU may well have a point here. We’ll be following this to see if anything comes of it.


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