Is noise free speech?

More particularly, is forcing a rock music group to keep their loud music under a certain level in a public place a violation of freedom of expression?That's the question the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to decide in a case pursued by flamboyant attorney William Kunstler.

In arguments before the court, Kunzler is claiming that limiting the audio volume of rock bands in Central Park is a "curb on creativity" and an attempt to "regulate free expression."

New York City officials disagree and so do people in the neighborhoods surrounding Central Park. The city has an ordinance requiring rock groups that perform in the park's bandshell to use a city worker as the technician to control the sound level, presumably because rock groups have a tendency to get carried away and exceed the noise limit.

One group sued the city over this requirement and lost in district court. But an appeal in a federal circuit court reversed the ruling, and the issue has now made it to the lofty level of the Supreme Court.

True, one man's meat is another man's poison and one man's painting may be another man's scribbles. But forcing citizens to tolerate the fuzz boxes, feedback and distortions of heavy metal bands is a little like forcing the man in the street to stand still while some avant-garde artist paints him a bright, baby blue.

Keeping a limit on noise levels hardly seems a violation of freedom of speech or creativity, especially since other citizens surely have equal rights to peace and quiet.