A Valentine’s Day dance set to take place in a tiny city in Oklahoma was canceled after an old city ordinance banning dancing within a certain amount of feet of a church was unearthed, leaving many outraged and wondering why the law existed in the first place.
Shelly Riveria and Joni Insabella planned to host a Valentine's Day dance for adults at Rosie LaVon’s Marketplace and Event Center, the business they launched last year in Henryetta, a city of about 6,500 people just south of Tulsa.
Scheduled to be held from 8 p.m. to midnight on February 11, they wrote on Facebook: “put your dancing shoes on and come to Rosie LaVon’s for an evening of fun."
But the business is located about 250 feet from Henryetta’s Church of Christ, and another local noted that holding such festivities so close to the place of worship would violate a city ordinance.
"The ordinance says no dancing allowed. It's illegal," said Robbie Kinner, who said that she had family who wanted to go to the dance and she posed the question on Facebook if it was now allowed.
“Has this law been overturned? And if so, when?" Kinney asked.
It hadn’t. According to the Henryetta Code Book, "No public dance hall shall be permitted where the same is located within 500 feet of any church or public school."
The business owners canceled the dance, in part because one owner’s husband is the city attorney. They wrote on Facebook that they had only wanted to do something nice for the community that had shown such support for her business.
“Instead, the mere prospect of having a dance has caused divisiveness which we wish to end. And for what it's worth, dancing is NOT prohibited in Henryetta. And I would never intentionally break the law or encourage law breaking whether I am a city attorney's wife or not,” they wrote.
Mayor Jennifer Clason could not recall a time when the ordinance was enforced, telling WKRC: "It's an antiquated ordinance; no one has ever looked at it to change it.”
Police Chief Steve Norman said that is department has “no interest” in enforcing the law.
“We've had dances in Henryetta for years," he told USA Today. "[The ordinance] pops its head up every few years and people try to make a big deal of it."
Kinney, who drew attention to the ordinance, said she has been continuously attacked since asking the question, posting on Facebook screenshots of the many insults and threats that have come her way.
“I'm all for dancing and I'm all for small business owners … This was NOT PERSONAL! So rather than send nasty comments and accuse us, and make our town look ridiculous just ask us our opinions,” she wrote on Facebook.
Kinney told WKRC she never wanted the dance to be canceled, but wonders where the line is drawn.
"Laws are laws, and we're going to abide by them. We can't pick and choose what laws we uphold," Kinney said.
Clason reportedly said the city council will consider abolishing the ordinance during their meeting February 22.