How St. Charles Potentially Amending Liquor Laws Became "St. Louis Is Banning Swearing in Bars"

Here's this week's lesson on how Internet rumors and mis-reporting spiral out of control.

As I was browsing tour date repository Pollstar today, this brief item caught my eye: "St. Louis city officials considering bill banning swearing in bars. It would also ban profane or obscene language, songs, entertainment and literature."

News to me, but that brief linked to this Associated Press article, which stated that St. Charles is "considering a bill that would ban swearing in bars, along with table-dancing, drinking contests and profane music. City officials contend the bill is needed to keep rowdy crowds under control because the historic downtown area gets a little too lively on some nights."

The AP correctly calls St. Charles a "St. Louis-area town" -- thereby invalidating and rendering incorrect what Pollstar reported. For those not in the area, the heart of St. Charles is a good 23 miles from the heart of St. Louis city. Saying laws are being amended in St. Charles has nothing to do with laws in St. Louis proper.

The damage is already done, however. I did a Google news search on the phrase "st. louis ban swearing" and the global news site AHN has already picked up on it.

Even more amusingly, I figured -- correctly -- that the Post-Dispatch would have reported on the St. Charles liquor laws. Here's an article from January 6, which actually buries the item about banning "obscene language" in the middle. Why? Well, reporter Mark Schlinkmann reveals that the aim of the potential amendment isn't to echo the restrictive environment popularized, say, in the movie Footloose. Here's the lede:

Aiming to curb rowdiness in the popular North Main Street bar scene, city officials may prohibit drinking contests, cut-rate booze nights and games offering alcohol as prizes.

Those steps, aimed at binge drinking, are among changes in a liquor code revamp being considered by the City Council.

And here's the more detailed description of the proposed bill:

If approved, the bill would prohibit promotions that sell alcohol at cut rates or in unlimited quantities.

Another key element, [Councilman Richard] Veit says, would add a city ordinance violation to the current state law against using fake IDs. Veit says this would result in quicker prosecution in municipal court.

The bill also prohibits dancing, sitting or standing upon bars or tables and would require bars to prohibit "indecent, profane or obscene" language, songs, entertainment or literature on their premises.

That prompted criticism from Marc Rousseau, manager of R.T. Weiler's, who cited freedom-of-speech concerns. He also said it would be difficult to carry out.

"The bill asks that we define what is profane or abusive," he told the council last month. "In the judgment of many, much of our popular music today would be illegal in St. Charles."

Veit said the provision was aimed at dealing with situations such as bar patrons shouting from a balcony at people walking on the sidewalk below.

So, in short: St. Louis isn't attempting to ban obscene language in bars. Fuck yeah. And reducing crime and rowdy crowds is really what the bill's about -- and methinks the part of the amendment trying to restrict speech is going to be shot down, really fast. If not amended to be less, well, all-inclusive. We'll find out at Monday's hearing.

-- Annie Zaleski

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