Respondent Rock Against Racism (RAR), furnishing its own sound equipment and technicians, has sponsored yearly programs of rock music at the Naumberg
Acoustic Bandshell in New York City's Central Park. The city received numerous complaints about excessive noise at RAR's concerts from users of the nearby
Sheep Meadow, an area designated by the city for passive recreation, from other users of the park, and from residents of areas adjacent to the park. Moreover,
when the city shut off the power after RAR ignored repeated requests to lower the volume at one of its concerts, the audience became abusive and disruptive.
The city also experienced problems at bandshell events put on by other sponsors, who, due to their use of inadequate sound equipment or sound technicians
unskilled at mixing sound for the bandshell area, were unable to provide sufficient amplification levels, resulting in disappointed or unruly audiences. Rejecting
various other solutions to the excessive noise and inadequate amplification problems, the city adopted a Use Guideline for the bandshell which specified that the
city would furnish high quality sound equipment and retain an independent, experienced sound technician for all performances. After the city implemented this
guideline, RAR amended a preexisting District Court complaint against the city to seek damages and a declaratory judgment striking down the guideline as
facially invalid under the First Amendment. The court upheld the guideline, finding, inter alia, that performers who had used the city's sound system and technician
had been uniformly pleased; that, although the city's technician ultimately controlled both sound volume and mix, the city's practice was to give the sponsor
autonomy as to mix and to confer with him before turning the volume down; and that the city's amplification system was sufficient for RAR's needs. Applying this
Court's three-part test for judging the constitutionality of governmental regulation of the time, place, and manner of protected speech, the court found the
guideline valid. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that such regulations' method and extent must be the least intrusive upon the freedom of expression
as is reasonably necessary to achieve the regulations' purpose, finding that there were various less restrictive means by which the city could control excessive
volume without also intruding on RAR's ability to control sound mix. [p*782] Held: The city's sound-amplification guideline is valid under the First Amendment
as a reasonable regulation of the place and manner of protected speech. Pp. 790-803 . (a) The guideline is content-neutral, since it is justified without reference
to the content of the regulated speech. The city's principal justification -- the desire to control noise in order to retain the sedate character of the Sheep Meadow
and other areas of the park and to avoid intrusion into residential areas -- has nothing to do with content. The city's other justification, its interest in ensuring
sound quality, does not render the guideline content-based as an attempt to impose subjective standards of acceptable sound mix on performers, since the city
has expressly disavowed any such intent, and requires its technician to defer to the sponsor's wishes as to mix. On the record below, the city's sound quality
concern extends only to the clearly content-neutral goals of ensuring adequate amplification and avoiding volume problems associated with inadequate mix. There
is no merit to RAR's argument that the guideline is nonetheless invalid on its face because it places unbridled discretion in the hands of city enforcement officials.
Even granting the doubtful proposition that this claim falls within the narrow class of permissible facial challenges to allegedly unconstrained grants of regulatory
authority, the claim nevertheless fails, since the guideline's own terms in effect forbid officials purposely to select an inadequate system or to vary sound quality or
volume based on the performer's message. Moreover, the city has applied a narrowing construction to the guideline by requiring officials to defer to sponsors on
sound quality and confer with them as to volume problems, and by mandating that amplification be sufficient for the sound to reach all concert-ground listeners.
Pp. 791-796 . (b) The guideline is narrowly tailored to serve significant governmental interests. That the city has a substantial interest in protecting citizens from
unwelcome and excessive noise, even in a traditional public forum such as the park, cannot be doubted. Moreover, it has a substantial interest in ensuring the
sufficiency of sound amplification at bandshell events in order to allow citizens to enjoy the benefits of the park, in light of the evidence that inadequate
amplification had resulted in the inability of some audiences to hear performances. The Court of Appeals erred in requiring the city to prove that the guideline was
the least intrusive means of furthering these legitimate interests, since a "less-restrictive-alternative analysis" has never been -- and is here, again, specifically
rejected as -- a part of the inquiry into the validity of a time, place, or manner regulation. See Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288 ,
293 ; Regan v. Time, Inc., 468 U.S. 641. The requirement of narrow tailoring is satisfied so long as the regulation promotes a substantial governmental interest
that would be [p*783] achieved less effectively absent the regulation, and the means chosen are not substantially broader than necessary to achieve that interest.
If these standards are met, courts should defer to the government's reasonable determination. Here, the city's substantial interest in limiting sound volume is
served in a direct and effective way by the requirement that its technician control the mixing board. Absent this requirement, the city's interest would have been
served less well, as is evidenced by the excessive noise complaints generated by RAR's past concerts. The city also could reasonably have determined that,
overall, its interest in ensuring that sound amplification was sufficient to reach all concert-ground listeners would be served less effectively without the guideline
than with it, since, by providing competent technicians and adequate equipment, the city eliminated inadequate amplification problems that plagued some
performers in the past. Furthermore, in the absence of evidence that the guideline had a substantial deleterious effect on the ability of performers to achieve the
quality of sound they desired, there is no merit to RAR's contention that the guideline is substantially broader than necessary to achieve the city's legitimate ends.
Pp. 796-802 . (c) The guideline leaves open ample alternative channels of communication, since it does not attempt to ban any particular manner or type of
expression at a given place and time. Rather, it continues to permit expressive activity in the bandshell, and has no effect on the quantity or content of that
expression beyond regulating the extent of amplification. That the city's volume limitations may reduce to some degree the potential audience for RAR's speech is
of no consequence, since there has been no showing that the remaining avenues of communication are inadequate. Pp. 802-803 . 848 F.2d 367, reversed.
Opinions KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined.
BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 803 . [p*784]
Back to First Amendment Surpreme Court Cases List