Cape Gazette

Friday Editorial

Rehoboth Art League fighting fire with fire

May 25, 2012

Henlopen Acres government eclipsed Dewey Beach recently in the over-reaching category. We thought Dewey Beach commissioners went too far in instituting a town-wide noise ordinance, with decibel levels widely believed unenforceable, to address a few summertime bar-music issues.  Passing that kind of ordinance is like using a meat ax instead of a scalpel for corrective surgery.

Henlopen Acres took misguided-use-of-government power to another level when it wrote letters threatening criminal prosecution of the directors of Rehoboth Art League and the Possum Point Players over plans for an unamplified, daytime performance of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" on league grounds.

The letters say the performances would constitute an illegal expansion of the art league’s nonconforming use in the town. The threats come on the heels of the town fining the art league - citing similar grounds - for an Earth Day activity.

Henlopen Acres’ bellicose posturing, not surprisingly, drew an equally strong, if not stronger, response from Rehoboth Art League and its legal team.  The art league is strongly defending its right to stage artistic events, is demanding that the threatening letters be retracted and an apology issued, and is raising the question of whether the town is attempting to use its laws to restrict the art league’s artistic freedom of expression in violation of the federal Constitution.

And all of this over the planned performances of a gentle and good-natured Shakespeare play? It’s hard to imagine any set of circumstances to which the saying “making a mountain out of a molehill” could be more aptly applied.

Why create a problem where there is none?  As it always has, Rehoboth Art League will work to ensure the performances don’t disrupt the community it calls home.

In the unlikely event the performance does cause a problem, that’s when the government should intervene.  In the meantime, cooler heads should prevail.

Henlopen Acres officials should acknowledge that their threats went too far and sit down with art league officials to resolve specific concerns they may have about the coming programs.

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The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.