Pound, Virginia Bans Dancing?

by Lewis Loflin

Update 2015: the Golden Pine closed several years ago and the lawsuit died with it.

Who could ever think one could be jailed or fined for simple country dancing at an everyday restaurant? Welcome to Pound, Virginia a decaying coal town in Southwest Virginia a few miles from the Kentucky state line. Because religious fanatics have taken over local government, a better name is Iran in the Smokies.

Note: Most citizens of Pound and Wise County are not raving fundamentalists.

Here local Christian fundamentalists believe that not only government but all facets of your private affairs should be subordinated to their religion. Why ban dancing? They claim it may cause sin.

Like Sullivan County, Tennessee they are seeking to use nonsense claims of safety and noise as an excuse to demand a license to dance. They also intend never to issue that license or will make it so expensive or hard to get the restaurant closes down.

The owner of the Golden Pine Restaurant has already taken this religious cult to court and won, but they changed the law around and are back in court. As of 9/7/01 town of Pound has been barred from citing the Golden Pine until the case to be heard in federal court.

The facts are that state courts just won't protect the civil rights of citizens in most cases from abusive local governments. That is why fundamentalists want an end to federal civil rights law so corrupt local judges will give them a free hand to terrorize anyone they want.

I warned over two years ago in Sullivan County these fundamentalists and their allies were never going to stop with just a strip bar, now it becoming anything they don't like for any reason. To make matters even worse recent Supreme Court decisions allowing police to jail citizens for even the most petty offense like seat-belt laws, will give these criminals an open season on everyone.

Just like Sullivan County, the Pound police hang around a business to intimidate clients and harass the owner with their presence. The affected citizen has to hire their own lawyer while local government uses our tax dollars for theirs. What will be next?

If you value your privacy and personal freedom, then make a stand and speak out or the next time it will be you!

Update: ABC revokes Golden Pine restaurant's license to sell alcohol
Golden Pine owner claims dance there is protected free speech

Virginia Town Gets Dancing Reprieve: 18 year Dancing Ban Called Unconstitutional

by Kia Shant'e Breaux Associated Press

POUND, Va. (May 31, 1999) - Terry Boggs knows of no finer way to end the work week than to put on cowboy boots and dance to his favorite country tunes. Thanks to a court ruling that struck down this town's ban on dancing, Boggs and other boot-scooters can now boogie the night away. "I'm not the greatest dancer in the world, but I like to unwind," Boggs, a 49-year-old trucker, said after dancing one warm July night at the Golden Pine Restaurant.

Not everyone in this town of about 1,000 in the southwestern Virginia mountains shares Boggs' sentiment. Church and town leaders see public dancing as something to be tightly restricted, lest it lead to cheatin' hearts and ruined marriages. Dancing was effectively banned in Pound for 18 years - until June 29, when a federal judge struck down the dance ordinance as unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Glen Williams ruled that the case amounted to an unconstitutional restriction of free expression reminiscent of "Footloose," the 1984 movie about teens rebelling against a small town's ban on dancing. Since the ruling, couples in cowboy hats and boots have turned out in droves to kick up their heels at the Golden Pine. It was William Elam, owner of the Golden Pine, who took the Town Council to court over it's dancing strictures. He grew weary of explaining to out-of-town patrons why they couldn't get down at his night spot. "They would get mad and a lot of them would flat out refuse to sit down," Elam said.

Pound's ordinance banned dancing in any place open to the public that did not first obtain a dance hall permit from the Council. Supporters of the ordinance said it was a way of cracking down on the bad behavior associated with dancing. "There's bound to be trouble when you mix drinking, country music and dancing," said Danny Stanley, the only member of the five-person Council who would consent to an interview.

Permit seekers has to apply in writing. The law forbade the Council from issuing a permit "to anyone who is not a proper person, nor to a person who is not a person of good moral character." No one was ticketed for dancing - and no one ever received a permit. Until Elam and the Golden Pine came along, nobody had sought one, said town attorney Gary Gilliam. Elam applied about a year ago, but withdrew the application out of fear that it would be rejected. More than 200 people showed up at a Council meeting to oppose Elam's application.

That's when Elam hired a lawyer. "We got the court ruling on Wednesday, and we were dancing on Friday," he said. Now the Council is rewriting it's ordinance more narrowly to pass constitutional muster. Town building inspectors also say the Golden Pine does not meet the state's fire code for dance halls, and could close him down because of it. In the meantime, the other bars in town are watching closely.

Pound is near a dry Kentucky county, and the nearest dance club is 20 miles away. "We're taking a wait-and-see approach right now," said Genetta Boggs, owner of the Candlelight Restaurant, which serves alcohol. "If it turns out that dancing is legal, we'll have to do whatever it takes to compete."

Basic Rights

August 21, 2001 Kingsport Times-News

In regard to this issue of dancing in Pound, Va., there is only one important issue here. It isn't that our community has become a laughingstock in the national press. It isn't about a local government in a dying coal town pandering to a religious cult. It's about the demise of our individual liberties and the fact it will not stop with dancing

To quote one fundamentalist cult leader in Pound, "I can never see a time when dancing can be approved of, especially with people who are not married,'' said Tim Shepherd, an evangelist for the Church of Christ in Pound. "Dancing is one of those things that entices. It imitates sexual contact.'' What's going to be next, football games with seating segregated by sex or marriage? We don't want "unmarried'' people to do things that "entice.''

Claims of safety and noise are total nonsense. Like Sullivan County's strip bar laws, this license will never be issued or will be so costly and restrictive as to make the activity impossible. And like Sullivan County the police harass/intimidate customers by hanging around the business constantly.

It isn't just religious cults in Pound or Sullivan County, it's race tickets in Bristol or private property rights being trampled over the Mendota Trail. Unless citizens put a stop to this nonsense, nobody will be safe. This has gone far beyond strip bars and will go far beyond dancing at the Golden Pine.

Lewis Loflin
Bristol, Va.

Hearing on Golden Pine dancing dispute postponed as attorneys aim for federal court


WISE - A hearing on criminal charges that Golden Pine owner Bill Elam allowed patrons to dance in his restaurant has been postponed as Elam's attorneys fight to have the matter heard in federal court. Elam's attorney, Susan Oglebay, said she and fellow attorney Mike Rolston are hoping to file a federal complaint by next week that could move the case into U.S. District Court.

Elam has been charged with three counts of allowing dancing in the Golden Pine without a permit and one charge of dancing without a permit. The case was supposed to be heard in Wise County General District Court on Wednesday but has been postponed until Aug. 8. Oglebay said the case was postponed for several reasons.

Two of the Pound police officers who will testify in the case were not available to appear in court on Wednesday. Oglebay also said that if the federal argument is heard, it may negate the need for a state criminal trial. But getting the case to federal court will be a battle, Oglebay said. "The federal court will not hear a state criminal complaint without exceptional circumstances. We can try. Can we succeed? I don't know," Oglebay said.

The issue of allowing people to dance in Pound has been before the federal court before, Oglebay said. The first time, a federal judge struck down an ordinance the town had adopted that required a permit to be able to dance. Oglebay said the town has since adopted another ordinance that does not specifically require a permit to dance but calls for the Town Council to have the discretion to issue a dance hall permit. "The current ordinance is constitutionally flawed. ... It does not set guidelines for the permit.

That's the whole issue. They have to give a reason for denying or issuing a permit," Oglebay said. While lawyers wait for a federal decision, Oglebay said the case has garnered national attention that she believes has promoted a backward stereotype of Southwest Virginia. "I'm well-aware this story has gone worldwide," Oglebay said. "It's funny, but it's also insulting to the area. ... It's the actions of a few people that are tainting our area. "I am upset that anything is promoting the stereotype of this region. People need to know that there are all kinds of different people here instead of a few who are against dancing."

Copyright 2001 Kingsport Times-News.
Published July 11, 2001

Constitutional right to dance?

The Associated Press

It's a situation a federal judge once compared with the movie "Footloose" - that 1984 Kevin Bacon flick about a boot-scootin' dude who disobeys a small town's ban on public dancing.

Bill Elam, owner of the Golden Pine restaurant in the tiny coal mining community of' Pound, Va., has allowed customers to disco on his makeshift dance floor in stubborn defiance of town law, which forbids dancing in public places without a dance hall permit.

Elam, who is scheduled to defend his actions on Wednesday in Wise County General District Court, said his customers have a constitutional right to dance. But do they? The First Amendment is rather murky when it comes to dancing, said Rod Smolla, a constitutional scholar at the University of Richmond, who sees no difference between regulating dance halls and regulating the act itself.

Unlike speech or assembly, dancing is an activity that rarely gets tested in court, he said. "For the most part, governments in the United States have not tried to punish most kinds of dancing. It's usually treated as benign and positive.

In the past few years, though, the courts have protected dancing as a form of expression - that is, theater or ballet dancing even exotic dancing. "Anything that's a performance of some kind," Smolla said. "As opposed to dancing for fun, which is considered recreational, like baseball. You don't have a constitutional right to play baseball."

The problem is where to draw the line between expressive dancing and dancing for fun, said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties group in Charlottesville. "How can you regulate one form of dancing and not another?" Whitehead said. For almost two decades, public dancing had been strictly regulated in Pound. "You have to understand, there's a lot of Bible folks around here," said David "Chic'nman" Gent, a disc jockey who often supplies the music at the Golden Pine.

Some local church leaders consider dancing a sinful activity, or at least one that would lead to cheatin' hearts and ruined marriages. More importantly, town attorney Gary Gillian said, people living around the Golden Pine worry about the noise and fights encouraged by a turbulent mix of booze, dance and women.

Despite the chilling effect regular visits by the police have had on his business, Elam said he won't back down and apply for a permit. "No sir, that's a sore spot," Elamn said. "I fought and fought and fought for this place ... a man can't just give up, you know?"

Town outlaws dancing but restaurant crowd won't slow down

CHRIS KAHN, Associated Press Writer
Monday, April 16, 2001

(04-16) 01:01 EDT POUND, Va. (AP) -- It's Saturday night and Helen Bolling is shimmying in a corner booth at the Golden Pine restaurant. A usually quiet, sparrow of a woman, the 65-year-old cups her hands and screams over the loudspeakers for the disc jockey to play ``Cotton-Eyed Joe.'' ``I love fast dances,'' says Bolling, who clomps her feet on the floor to the music.

This is an especially daring act in Pound, a conservative town of about 1,000 people in the Appalachian coal mining country of Virginia's extreme western corner. Public dancing is illegal without a permit and the Golden Pine doesn't have one. Owner Bill Elam, who got a judge to throw out an old anti-dance ordinance as unconstitutionally broad, refuses to apply for one.

After his court victory, the Town Council enacted a new ordinance just last year, writing it to pass constitutional muster. The maximum penalty is a $500 fine. The new law is applauded by local church leaders, some of whom consider dancing a sin.

``I can never see a time when dancing can be approved of, especially with people who are not married,'' said Tim Shepherd, an evangelist for the Church of Christ in Pound. ``Dancing is one of those things that entices. It imitates sexual contact.''

There are communities with similar bans elsewhere in Virginia and elsewhere, but unlike Pound's new ordinance they're often in antiquated sections of legal code that have been ignored for decades, said Kent Willis, director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``I've never heard of a town actually trying to enforce something like this,'' Willis said.

So far, no one has been ticketed for dancing, but town officials have been discussing what to do about the Golden Pine. ``We're planning something, but I can't go into detail right now,'' said Police Chief Jeff Rose. Elam probably will get a court summons, said town attorney Gary Gilliam.

Elam, 48, has been a thorn in the town's side ever since he bought the Golden Pine in 1996. ``I won't be run off,'' he says. His old building is shabby and its electrical system shorts out from time to time, but it's a perfect place for a night club, Elam said. It's close to a dry county in Kentucky and the only competition is the Holiday Inn 20 miles away in Norton.

``I knew I could make a killing here,'' Elam said. But when he arrived, an 18-year-old ordinance denied dance permits ``to anyone who is not a proper person, nor to a person who is not a person of good moral character.'' After he got the law struck down in federal court, Elam hung a disco ball from the ceiling, tore down a wall and laid tiles for a proper dance floor.

In spite of the new ordinance, enacted in February 2000, hundreds of people gather on Saturday nights to boogie at the Golden Pine. As disc jockey David ``Chic'nman'' Gent starts the music, girls smoking cigarettes head to the dance floor. Carl Addington pulls up in a red Corvette wearing a leather vest and jeans. Curtis Caldwell comes in from the pool tables and talks to a pretty blonde woman in a red top.

``This is just like a dream,'' Elam says as he watches. In her corner booth, Helen Bolling has been waiting for the music. Until a few months ago, Bolling had never danced, not even at her wedding. But after her husband died of cancer last year, it was the only thing that made her feel better.

``She would just sit by the window and cry to herself 24-seven,'' said Rhonda McHugh, the youngest of Bolling's 12 children. ``So I said, 'Mama, let's go to Pines.''' By 9:30 p.m., the place is packed with coal miners and old timers and college kids, all dancing in a swarm of cowboy boots and tie-died shirts.

When Gent finally plays the country dance tune ''Cotton-Eyed Joe,'' Bolling gets up and stomps her pumps on the floor. She joins her daughter, then some younger women step in and soon there is no more space on the floor.

''I think it's good for people to dance,'' Bolling says, smiling like a teen-ager. 'I'm not too good, but it makes me feel a whole lot better.''

Political insanity: