Boardwalk preachers raising hell in Seaside Heights, NJ
SEASIDE HEIGHTS —They stand on the boardwalk shouting insults and harsh religious messages through a megaphone.
The boardwalk preachers have been setting up in front of the Beachcomber Bar & Grill restaurant owned by Borough Council President Michael Carbone and arguing with his customers.
Carbone said "preachers" have been coming around for the past five or six years but this year they've become more confrontational.
"They have a megaphone speaker and they are just going so loud it was getting ear piercing. They were trying to go over the music of the establishment.," Carone said. "I have an upper deck where they were shouting back and forth at each other which is not a good situation."
But right now there's not much the municipality believes it can do to stop them.
Fears of a violent confrontation
Carbone said the preachers are under the impression that they are within their rights to shout whatever they want, which he calls "an unsafe situation." He shared two brief video clips with New Jersey 101.5.
In one clip, a man wearing a shirt that reads "obey Jesus" speaks into a megaphone while another man holds a large cross.
"The Bible says God hates abominations. Homosexuals are an abomination to him," the man says.
In another video clip, he calls on "drunkards" to "pour out their booze" and run out of the "flaming fire of hell."
"I have an upper deck of people drinking and he's going after them calling them names. Before long, you know someone's going to throw a bottle or something at them," Carbone said.
Carbone said it's his observation four or five people take turns on the megaphone. One member of the group said he is a lawyer and video-records every session on the boardwalk, according to Carbone.
"They videotape themselves for their own protection. They keep screaming they have First Amendment rights. But what they're doing is creating an unsafe situation. You can't be yelling that stuff. People get offended," Carbone said.
Can the preachers be stopped?
Mayor Tony Vaz said at Wednesday's Borough Council meeting that the borough is consulting with a constitutional lawyer.
"Bureaucracy right now says we can't do too much," Vaz said, adding that the borough is concerned about them.
Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani explained that the municipality has to be careful about how it reacts, such as requiring the preachers to keep moving or to not allow an amplification system.
"Generally, these groups tend to be very litigious and whatever is done is likely to be challenged," Cipriani said.