Addicted To Noise staff writer Chris Nelson reports: The City Council of Richmond, Virginia will conduct an executive session meeting today to decide whether to allow a concert by Marilyn Manson to be held at the Richmond Coliseum on May 10.
As reported in ATN on Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is preparing to sue the city if the concert is canceled. "If the city of Richmond does not decide to allow the concert to go on by the end of the day, I am confident that Marilyn Manson will be joining us in a lawsuit," ACLU executive director Kent Willis told ATN this morning.
The council's executive session begins at 4 p.m. EST, with a decision expected by 5 p.m. "We are prepared to go ahead with the lawsuit literally within hours of their making their final decision," said Willis. A representative from the law firm representing Manson is in Richmond today preparing for the council decision.
Today's meeting follows a Friday (April 18) announcement from Ozzy Osbourne that he will sue the state of New Jersey for the right to bring his Ozzfest concert to Giants Stadium on June 15 with Marilyn Manson on the bill (see story in Sat., April 19 edition of "Music News of the World."). On Friday, officials for the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority (which oversees Giants Stadium) issued Osbourne an ultimatum: Remove Manson from the line-up or the stadium will refuse to host the concert.
A statement issued on Friday by the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority read: "The promoters have informed us that Marilyn Manson must remain in the show, therefore based upon our stated position we will not allow tickets to go on sale tomorrow."
***John Malm, a spokesman for nothing Records (the label for which Manson records), told ATN only that, "We support Marilyn Manson's First Amendment rights. This is a First Amendment issue, and that's what Ozzy's standing behind, and that's what we're standing behind." ***
Neither Osbourne's management nor the Sports and Exhibition Authority were available for comment this morning. However, Perry Serpa, publicist for Ozzfest, said that heavy metal's elder statesman "is not gonna take it. Personally, I think it's ridiculous and it points to censorship."
Marilyn Manson is scheduled to appear at fewer than 10 of more than two dozen Ozzfest tour stops.
The ACLU of New Jersey may step in to defend Manson's rights. Ed Martone, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, told ATN that the organization could "potentially" be involved in Osbourne's suit. "We haven't been contacted by the band, or the promoters, or their representatives.
"Our position is that this is a publicly regulated stadium," said Martone. "Therefore the authority that runs it can't make determinations about which artists can perform there--or not--based on the content of their speech. And that is clearly what's happening here."
Public pressure to keep Marilyn Manson from performing has dogged the band throughout its tour in support of Antichrist Superstar. Opposition ranging from complaints to city authorities, to municipal resolutions, to attempted cancellations has followed the band from Oklahoma City to Omaha, Nebraska and from Anchorage, Alaska to Jacksonville, Florida. Earlier this month Manson pulled out of an appearance at the Carolina Coliseum, after the University of South Carolina paid promoters to halt the show.
Back in Virginia, City Manager Robert C. Bobb's public information manager Brannan Atkinson (Bobb proposed that the concert be canceled) told ATN that the Richmond city manager "objects to the images, issues, ideas that Marilyn Manson exhibits, mainly the message of hate [and] the allusions to Satanism. He's said all along that Marilyn Manson can play in Richmond, they just can't play in a public facility."
But according to the ACLU's Willis, the right to play in a public facility is the crux of Manson's potential case against the city. "This is a classic free speech case," said Willis. "This is expression protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
"A private facility has the right to make content based decisions. It can decide we don't like this kind of group, we do like this, we don't like what they have to say, and so on," explained Willis. "But this facility is a public facility. It belongs to the city of Richmond, and therefore it has all the protections that a public forum has. In other words, this is the same right that keeps a library book on the public library shelves; it's the same right to stand on a soap box in a park and speak; it's the same right to march on the streets.
"They can't book [the Richmond Coliseum] based on the viewpoint or the content of the expression of the performer."
Last week Bobb maintained that the city had no signed contract with or deposit from Manson to perform at the Coliseum. "That's correct," Atkinson told ATN. "As I understand it, there was an unsigned contract, basically meaning that it had not been executed."
"Legally that's irrelevant," countered Willis. "It is absolutely certain that there was an agreement between the city of Richmond and Marilyn Manson to perform on May 10. Every single actor involved--the promoter; Spectacor, which manages the coliseum where it was to take place; the Assistant City Manager--had all agreed to this happening. They agreed on a price, they agreed on conditions, they had put tickets on sale.
"Even if there is not a signed agreement, that's an oral contract," said Willis. "And oral contracts are enforceable by law the same way written contracts are."
If, after today's executive session in Richmond, the ACLU proceeds with its suit, the organization will file a case with the United States District Court in Richmond late Monday evening or early Tuesday morning. "Basically what we would ask for is a restraining order," said Willis. "We would ask the judge to order the city to allow the concert to go on."
According to Atkinson, local citizens in Richmond "are weighing in on all sides of this issue. We've had people calling in strongly objecting and strongly supporting." He stressed that this is an informal observation, and that the exact number of calls has not been tallied. whew.