Constitutional Principles

It Might Cost You $175 to Wear a Costume in Times Square


A New York City councilmember thinks you should have to give up almost a day’s pay to wear a costume in Times Square.

According to Gothamist, Councilmember Andy King was set to introduce legislation Wednesday that would require costumed individuals in Times Square to pay a registration fee of $175. That would take you over seven hours to earn at the average hourly income. The fee could be waived for those with financial difficulties, as noted in the story.

But wait, there’s more!

According to the report, costumed characters would also be required to undergo a background check. And they’d have to carry a photo ID.

“If you’re out there in a costume and we can’t recognize who you are, we’re gonna ask you to present ID,” King told Gothamist. “”If you can’t present ID, officers will have the option of asking you to leave the location, give you a fine, or removing you from the location.”

The legislation would apply to people who wear costumes or paint their faces “for the sole purpose of taking pictures for entertainment reasons.” Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $50 for the first infraction, $100 for the second and $500 after that.

Apparently there have been several incidents of violence over the past year involving such individuals in Times Square.

“My bill is about safety. We’re setting the rules of engagement in Times Square,” King told Gothamist.

But don’t worry. According to the report, King said costumed individuals who visit the location with no intention of soliciting tips, like on Halloween, won’t be “hassled” if they behave.

As noted in the story, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and several elected officials support the bill. Mayor Bill de Blasio also supports regulation, according to the report.

But others aren’t so sure it’s a good idea.

“Wearing costumes is a form of First Amendment expression, and the First Amendment does not permit government to charge its citizens as a pre-condition of exercising their rights,” Steven Shiffrin, professor emeritus at Cornell Law School, wrote in an email to Gothamist. “This principle takes on special force when the charge is exorbitant and when the purported justification for its imposition is so obviously a pretext.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, reportedly agrees. She said that the area is “one of the most heavily patrolled public spaces in the city if not the country” and that cops “have the tools they need to protect public safety and freedom of expression.” She suggested “training the NYPD to use the tools they currently have at their disposal.”

If the law passes, add it to the list of laws New Yorkers face such as a ban on taking selfies with tigers and tickets for jogging in Central Park before 6 a.m.

What do you think? Does requiring people to pay to wear a costume violate their First Amendment rights? Should this law be passed?