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Street Performers

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Street performers are, by definition, people who perform in public places for money. In some places they have been banned or ‘turned into criminals,’ as Heather Jacks so eloquently put it, for following the very definition of their job. So the question remains, is it constitutional for them to play in the streets, and is it considered panhandling?

When street performers are given money by the public, some authorities would consider it panhandling, which they have laws against. It may also be considered soliciting, although performers insist that the public give them donations by free will. They may also be fined for not having a business license. In some places, their instuments are also confiscated until or unless they win their court case.

New York City placed a ban on performers in the subway tunnels, which the court ruled unconstitutional in 1985. In response, in 1989 NYC banned amplification devices on the subway platforms instead. By 1999, MUNY was put in place, street performers could legally perform on the subways, and officers were not allowed to seize instruments. MUNY is a license performers can get that allows them to perform on the subways and streets, and after one year of being temporary, it will become permanent, so that they never lose it. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of street performers several times.

The Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” Street performers use their freedom of speech in public areas to collect willing donations from passerby. Can you arrest a musician for playing music? The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of street performers, yet some places still insist on following their own laws, ignoring the supremacy clause. I think that street performers are not in the wrong, as they cause no harm to passerby, and will accept donations if offered, rather than actively asking for it. Playing music is part of our right to freedom of expression, and that is a right that we have the freedom to exercise. Because of this, my answer to the question, “Is it constitutional for them to play in the streets, and is it considered panhandling?” is that it is constitutional for them to do this, and that it should not be considered panhandling.



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