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Changes To Charlotte's Noise Ordinance Pass 8-3

protesters at Charlotte City Council meeting
Protesters rushed the dais during the Charlotte City Council meeting; three were arrested.

In an 8 to 3 vote, the Charlotte City Council approved changes to the city’s noise ordinance.

One of the most controversial changes involved amplified sound. Now amplified sound will be banned within 150 feet of schools, places of worship, and medical facilities—including A Preferred Women's Health Center of Charlotte, a heavily protested abortion clinic on Latrobe Drive.

The discussion over sound and noise was the topic of last tonight’s city council meeting—even before the doors opened. As long lines formed outside council chambers, anti-abortion groups sang and prayed.

When the doors did open and council members took their seats, a group of protesters immediately ran to up to the dais, jumped up and unraveled a large sign that read “City Of Charlotte Silences Women, Amplifies Misogyny.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers eventually escorted the group out. Three of the protesters were arrested.

More than 100 hundred speakers signed up to voice their opinions over the proposed noise ordinance,  which bans amplified sound within 150 feet of schools, places of worship and medical facilities—although people are still permitted to gather and hand out literature in that space.

Credit Sarah Delia/WFAE
A large crowd waits to enter council chambers.

Anti-abortion groups argued that the buffer zone limited their right to free speech. One of the tools they use to spread their messages at abortion clinics is amplified sound through speakers. Daniel Parks is an anti-abortion activist. He regularly demonstrates outside A Preferred Women's Health Center.

"Over the past few years, the City of Charlotte has attacked every form of speech that we use to protect these precious babies. And now trying to surpress our message by changing the sound ordinance," Parks said.

Abortion-rights supporters like Kelsea McLain said it's not about limiting freedom of speech, it's about limiting the amplified sound that she and other abortion supporters said is damaging to patients.

"The reality is I had an abortion in 2010, and there were protesters in front of my clinic. They weren’t allowed to use amplification, yet somehow I was able to figure out their message," McLain said. "There was no need for amplification for me to understand their message. Their freedom of speech was heard loud and clear." 

After over two hours of speakers, it was time for council to weigh in. Council member Ed Driggs who had been vocally opposed to the noise ordinance changes said the issue went beyond the use of amplified sound.

"I believe the city is trying to circumvent the controversy by burying the medical facility quiet zone in a broad-based ordinance update, and acting as if it’s only about sound," Driggs said.

Council member Braxton Winston said he was a supporter of free speech and applauded everyone who came out to express their opinions. He urged the crowd to find common ground, but while doing so was interrupted by long time anti-abortion activist Flip Benham.

As council members remarks came to a close, Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt tried to redirect the conversation.

"We’re not here to regulate religion, we’re not here to regulate morality. We are here to keep the peace in the city and to assure quality of life in a city that is growing very quickly," Eiselt said.

Eiselt added by her calculations, 61% of the speakers who came out to oppose the ordinance were not from Charlotte.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.