Saturday, September 02, 2006

Church Leaders Oppose County Strip Clubs

This is from the August 24th edition of the News Reporter

Church leaders are at the forefront of a movement to keep the doors of two adult entertainment businesses in Delco closed and prevent others from opening in Columbus County.

Several preachers from the area asked county commissioners to keep Whispers and Magic Moments closed and toughen existing ordinances concerning adult businesses at a Monday county commission meeting.

The Columbus County sheriff closed both establishments on Aug. 3, citing violations of local ordinances enacted in October 1977 and modified in February 2000 that forbids such establishments within 3,000 feet of a residence or other sexually oriented businesses, and 5,000 feet of churches, daycares and schools. Six employees and a manager were arrested on a number of charges.

The Rev. Charles Hester of Riegelwood Baptist Church commended commissioners for amending the ordinances in 2000 and thanked Sheriff Chris Batten for the raid on the clubs. He urged officials to continue “until establishments have no place to land” in Columbus County and “do whatever” could be done to strengthen the laws pertaining to the adult businesses.

“We’ve contended with Magic Moments for more than 10 years,” Hester told commissioners. “What begins on the borders –it won’t be long before it is at the county seat.”

Pastor Eddie Watts of Riegelwood thanked officials for “progress made,” telling commissioners that he had been trying to encourage people to pray and seek the Lord’s power. “I don’t want to see our county become a reproach,” Watts said, quoting Proverbs 29:16 and 18:3 that read in part: “…when the wicked are increased, transgression increaseth …”

Thurston Calvin Malpass of Red Hill joined other church leaders in asking what was being done to review the ordinance.

“This is a top priority,” Commissioner Bill Memory said.

“We are looking at it,” said Steve Fowler, county attorney, adding that it was being tweaked “more into compliance.”

Donald Melvin Lawing of Faith Baptist and Faith Christian in Delco said the unsightly businesses were frequented by passersby traveling from Charlotte to Wilmington. “It doesn’t benefit the county,” Lawing insisted. He said the illegal money floating about the establishments was money the county “would never see.” Urging commissioners to make laws and ordinances “as strong as possible,” Lawing said, “Wouldn’t it be great to get that big sign down across from our church?”

Wednesday, the county attorney issued a press release in reference to the ordinances. The release states that the 1977 ordinance is focused primarily on massage parlors and that the county would like an ordinance that is “as up to date and contemporary as possible.”

The county attorney’s release goes on to state that, “the county is looking at ways to strengthen and tighten this ordinance while, at the same time, obtain balance within the law to the judicial rulings as determined by the United States Supreme Court in what constitutes free speech.” Fowler explains that the office is “aggressively reviewing the current county ordinance but wishes to be cautious in making sure that what is presented to the commissioners can be adequately enforced and reasonably upheld by judicial authority.”

In several highly controversial rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1986 and 1991 that sexually explicit speech or actions are not necessarily obscene. That means local church leaders’ and residents’ desire to keep such establishments out of the county are likely to be met with the defense that the operations of adult businesses often are protected as free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

The next hearing regarding Magic Moments is set for Aug. 28 at 10 a.m. at the Columbus County Courthouse. The case had been continued to that date due to one of the club’s owners Donald Mercer’s notice of hearing being returned “unserved” and defendant Gabriel Spence Mercer being given adequate time within the law to respond to his notice .

Meanwhile, the Town of Bolton, recently approached by individuals looking to open a club there, is reviewing the town’s ordinances that do not specifically address adult businesses. A meeting is also planned for Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

posted by David at 1:28 PM :: Permalink ::

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