Myrtle Beach War Against Ocean Boulevard Businesses to be Heard in Supreme Court Thursday

By Paul Gable

The war being waged by the City of Myrtle Beach against certain long time businesses on Ocean Boulevard will be the subject of a hearing before the S. C. Supreme Court Thursday.

In an interesting twist, the hearing will take place in a special session of the court at Coastal Carolina University. The venue is not the important part of this matter. It is the issue of whether Myrtle Beach, or any local government, can arbitrarily treat certain businesses differently than it treats similar businesses elsewhere in its jurisdiction.

As a bit of background, this issue goes back four and one-half years to August 2018 when the city passed an ordinance which banned the sale of products such as hookah pipes, tobacco, CBD oil and what it calls sexually suggestive merchandise within an overlay district along Ocean Boulevard that the city designated a “Family Friendly” District.

The sale of these products, all of which are entirely legal products, was not banned citywide. They were banned only within the confines of the “Family Friendly” district arbitrarily designated by the ordinance.

The merchants affected by the ordinance filed suit against the city and it is this lawsuit that will be the subject of Thursday’s hearing.

The establishment of this alleged “Family Friendly” district along a certain portion of Ocean Boulevard, not all of Ocean Boulevard, brings about an absolutely absurd situation for these merchants. Everyday since the law was passed, a person wanting to purchase, say CBD oil, can’t purchase it from a business in the banned district. However, that same person can walk across the street, to a business that is not within the banned district, and quite legally purchase the same product.

It should also be noted, first reading of the ordinance was passed approximately two years before second reading. The items banned in the first reading were significantly changed in the second reading. This would appear to have been a major change that should have required another first reading before second reading. Just another point that should make this ordinance illegal.

Among the legal points to be argued in the case, one stands out. The city, in its arbitrary establishment of the district, certainly appears to have violated the provisions of equal protection of the law in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Equal protection of the law is the constitutional guarantee that no person or group will be denied protection under the law afforded to similar persons or groups. In other words, people who find themselves in a similar situation must be treated in the same way. As we all know, it has been ruled businesses are “persons” when it comes to constitutional law.

Simply put, if one business on Ocean Boulevard (not to mention throughout the rest of the city) is allowed to sell these products, all businesses along Ocean Boulevard must be allowed to sell these products. Otherwise, the US Constitution is being violated by a City of Myrtle Beach ordinance.

In a convoluted statement attempting to explain the rationale for the ordinance, Mayor Brenda Bethune said, “I’m not saying that those businesses are not what we want, I’m just saying that there currently is some merchandise that is not really in the scope of being family friendly,” And “We are not trying to target legal merchandise and say you can’t sell this anywhere in the city. What we’re saying is there’s a perception issue with some of these products, and they do attract children, they are marketed for children, and that it does promote drug use.”

Apparently according to the mayor’s above statements, it’s okay if these products supposedly “attract children” and “promote drug use” at, say, Coastal Grand Mall, Broadway at the Beach or along certain areas of Ocean Boulevard, but not in the designated “Family Friendly” overlay district on Ocean Boulevard?

How does such thinking, expressed by the mayor, even begin to make sense much less follow the provisions of the 14th Amendment?

And when it comes to “Family Friendly” products, why wasn’t alcohol banned in the district when many crimes committed within the city are alcohol related? Oh, that’s right, the mayor owned the largest beer distributorship in the city at the time the ordinance was passed. Therefore, I suppose, alcohol products are ‘Family Friendly” by definition. Is alcohol not a drug on which some people become addicted? CBD oil is not. Isn’t there a lot of hypocrisy in the choosing of “Family Friendly” merchandise?

Considering what is on the list of banned products and what is left off, it is highly suggestive this proposed ordinance is not about creating a “Family Friendly” atmosphere at all. It appears to be targeted at a select group of businesses, owned by Jewish merchants. It’s not that long ago that some land deeds in Myrtle Beach contained deed restrictions prohibiting the sale of the land to Jews and Blacks.

Aren’t these just more violations of the 14th Amendment. We will begin to see if the 14th Amendment applies to Myrtle Beach with the SC Supreme Court hearing Thursday.

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