Miss Manners with a gun?

By Jon Dougherty

While many Americans agree it is bad manners if your cell phone rings during a movie, a Broadway play or a concert, should it be against the law, with offenders paying a $50 fine for each infraction? Politicians in New York City think so, and have proposed a bill to outlaw such boorish behavior – much to the chagrin of the Libertarian Party.

“Picture Miss Manners with a gun and you have some idea why this proposal is an overreaction,” says George Getz, the party’s communications director. “Civilized people can deal with minor annoyances without further empowering the Nanny State.”

This month, the New York City Council will consider a bill to impose a $50 fine on anyone who makes or receives a cell phone call, or fails to disable a phone’s ringer, during an indoor performance at a theater, art gallery, concert hall or library. If passed, the law would become the nation’s first-ever “cell phone etiquette” law – one that may rapidly spread to other states, says the Libertarian Party.

Last year, after New York became the first state to ban hand-held use of a cell phone while driving, 31 other states have considered similar legislation.

While acknowledging that untimely cell phone use often is rude, Libertarians wonder: “Should bad manners be illegal?”

“Imagine every movie theater equipped with cell phone cops who bolt down the aisle every time a ringer goes off, demand a driver’s license from the offender and issue a ticket,” Getz said. “With an army of phone fighters disturbing the peace, patrons will soon long for the days when an occasional cell phone ring was their greatest annoyance.”

Getz said Libertarians wondered if laws against “obnoxious people who talk aloud, people who butt in line to buy tickets, take too long to decide what kind of popcorn to buy or teen-agers [smooching] in the back row of the theater” will come next.

“Once you put politicians in charge of defining rude behavior, expect the list of annoying behaviors to grow,” he said.

But Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for the council, told WorldNetDaily the bill “is a quality-of-life issue here in New York City.”

“This is a city of 8 million people, and while this bill might seem silly to other people living in other cities, most people here don’t think so,” she said. “In fact, they’re welcoming this legislation.”

She went on to say that in some parts of the city, ordinances prohibit drivers from honking their horns.

Todd said the bill likely would not contain any exceptions for doctors or others who are often on call and must be reached in emergencies.

“Today’s cell phones can be set to vibrate instead of ring,” she said.

If cell phones are annoying, Libertarians say, let private individuals and businesses regulate their use – not government at any level.

“In fact, simply encouraging every business to implement its own policy might solve the problem instantly,” Getz said.

But Todd said many businesses in the city do post signs asking patrons to turn off cell phones. She said such requests often are ignored, hence the need for a law enforcing such requests.

“It’s the ‘me’ society,” said Todd, adding that far too many people seem unconcerned about upsetting or annoying their neighbors.

And, she said, NYC “is already an expensive place to live and to visit.”

“When somebody pays nine, 10, 12 dollars for a movie ticket, or $350 for a theater ticket, nobody wants to hear somebody’s phone ringing in the middle of it,” she said.

Getz, however, said businesses could become cell phone free as a way to cut down on disturbances.

“People who find cell phones annoying could patronize cell phone-free theaters, stores and restaurants,” he said. “Meanwhile, people who insist on yakking loudly on their phones would get exactly what they deserve – the company of other people just as obnoxious as they are.”

Councilman Philip Reed, D-Manhattan, sponsored the legislation.