Nudes and Prudes


Many states prohibit completely nude dancing in businesses that serve alcohol, but owners of strip joints can avoid this rule by cutting the booze and keeping the nudity. Legislators in five states—Missouri, Utah, Oregon, Tennessee, and Ohio—recently introduced bills aimed at such non-alcoholic "juice bars." But the measures were so sloppily worded they would have prohibited nudity in all businesses, on all public lands, and, in some cases, in private homes.

Encouraged by the 1991 Supreme Court decision Barnes v. Glen Theater, which upheld an Indiana law that bans mere nudity (not just nudity accompanied by lewd or obscene conduct) in public places, the legislators set out to ban as much nudity as they could. In their zeal, the authors of the most extreme measures may have left no room even for changing clothes or showering. The Missouri bill would have made "public indecency"—appearing nude or permitting nudity in any business or on public property—a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Pat O'Brien, director of special projects for the Naturist Society, notes that someone who dived into a pool and lost his bathing suit could have gone to jail under this proposal.

The bill also would have made "indecent exposure"—nudity in any non-public place—a misdemeanor. Joyce Armstrong, director of the Missouri chapter of the ACLU, says this law would have applied not only to all plays including nudity and to models in sculpture classes but technically to all nudity within the home.

The anti-nudity measures alarmed nudists, whose parks would have been categorically proscribed, and naturists, who could have gone to jail for skinny-dipping in remote rivers. The Naturist Action Committee and the Ohio and Missouri branches of the ACLU were able to get the language of the bills in those two states narrowed. As approved, the laws target "adult cabarets," which are businesses serving food or beverages where employees work in the nude. Nudists are still worried that employees who service vending machines or work behind snack counters at their parks may be affected by the laws.

The bills in Oregon and Utah did not make it to a vote, and the Tennessee bill did not pass. But nudists expect similar measures to appear in this legislative session.