ACLU of Michigan Applauds Court Order Permitting Street Musicians to Play on Saugatuck Public Sidewalks

March 27, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Prompted by an ACLU of Michigan lawsuit on behalf of two musicians banned from playing on public sidewalks, Saugatuck city officials have agreed to allow street performers to perform on public sidewalks without a permit and to exempt them from a business entertainment ordinance that was used to justify the arrests.

Watch our video of viola player Christopher Waechter and guitarist Gabe Novak talking about the case

The agreement, part of a consent judgment entered today by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker, was reached after the ACLU of Michigan sued the city for prohibiting musicians Christopher Waechter and Gabe Novak from performing on city sidewalks in separate incidents last summer. Novak was also arrested.

Michael Steinberg, legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, lauded the agreement as a victory for the First Amendment: “The right to express oneself on public sidewalks without government interference is a cherished right in this nation. We are thrilled that this right will now be respected in the City of Saugatuck.”

Originally, viola player Waechter and guitarist Novak were forced off the public sidewalk after being told they were in violation of a “public entertainment” ordinance requiring businesses that wish to provide public entertainment to apply for a license 60 days before the event. Novak was jailed for the weekend when he told an officer who directed him to stop performing that the officer’s actions were unconstitutional. Under the consent judgment, the City of Saugatuck also must pay Waechter and Novak $7500 each as well as attorney fees.

In addition to Steinberg, Novak and Waechter are represented by ACLU of Michigan staff attorneys Marc Allen and Miriam Aukerman.

Read the legal complaint
View videos and more at the casepage