Beach town’s body-piercing rules put on hold

Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Body-piercing shops in Myrtle Beach, S.C., have won a temporary reprieve from a city ordinance that limits where piercing can be done.

Judge John Breeden issued a temporary restraining order on April 6 that halts enforcement of a 6-month-old ordinance pending a hearing in the Horry County Court of Common Pleas on April 15. The ordinance was scheduled to take effect today.

Edward Friend, owner of Can-Am Gift, a shop that does body piercing in the Ocean Boulevard district, filed a lawsuit April 6 challenging the ordinance on free-expression grounds.

The ordinance prohibits businesses from using body piercing as their primary source of income.

According to the ordinance, “Body piercing shall be permitted as an accessory use only in health care establishments engaged in the science and art of preventing, curing or alleviating disease, including medical, surgical, psychiatric, chiropractic and osteopathic, and dental hospitals, clinics and offices.”

Friend says that about 70% of the shops in the Ocean Boulevard area offer body piercing and that the city doesn't want that image. He said that the ordinance was the city's way of discouraging businesses from performing body piercing.

“The ordinance restricts customers from expressing themselves and restricts the artists from performing their art,” he said.

Ronald Hazzard, an attorney for Friend, said that there had been a clear violation of First Amendment rights for body-piercing clients and business owners. He also says the ordinance violates equal-protection rights by excluding traditional piercing, such as ear-lobe piercing, from the same stipulations as other body piercing.

“We are not zoning body piercing out,” said Rachel Broadhurst, Myrtle Beach City Council member. “We are just placing it in areas that have the opportunity to be safer.”

Broadhurst said that since health care facilities must meet standards set by the state, the chances for sterilization and safety were greater than at commercial businesses that provide body piercing.

Friend says he supports regulation of body piercing that promotes health and safety, but not the ordinance that “basically bans body piercing.”

“The ordinance takes a lawful endeavor and zones it out of existence,” Hazzard said.

“The ordinance makes it impossible to continue body piercing because no medical facility would allow it in their office,” Friend said. Hazzard also says he is unaware of a medical facility that allows body piercing.

Broadhurst says she knows of no health facilities that perform body piercing, but that doesn't mean they will not allow it in the future.

Councilman Wilson Cain says that he has heard several complaints from mothers of underage children about body piercing.

“All you have to do is walk down the Boulevard at night and see the things that go on that shouldn't be allowed in any place,” Cain said. “It's not proper.”

Cain, who is also a pharmacist, says there have been attempts to weed out unhealthy or unclean facilities, but the city can't enforce their regulations because of the many people visiting the Ocean Boulevard area.

“It's not good publicity for a family beach,” Cain said.

He says that he voted for the ordinance because he feels that if body piercing takes place in a medical facility it will be better monitored and safer.

Despite Mayor Mark McBride's opposition, all City Council members voted for the ordinance last October.

After the vote, McBride told the Associated Press that the ordinance would not be enforceable.

Hazzard claims Friend is entitled to damages because city officials have violated his civil rights by making it impossible for Friend to continue his art.

“I know my constitutional rights and I won't let them be violated,” Friend said.