Utah Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Strippers' Rights

Utah Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Strippers' Rights

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court has heard arguments over whether dancers have a constitutional right to perform in the nude.

About 100 law students also heard the arguments Wednesday at Brigham Young University as the court held one of its periodic sessions at BYU and University of Utah law schools.

The court took the arguments under advisement and will issue a written ruling later. At issue is whether South Salt Lake's sexually oriented business ordinance banning nudity is constitutional.

Three clubs -- American Bush, Leather & Lace and Paradise Adult Entertainment -- filed suit last year challenging the March 2001 ordinance.

Paradise closed in July 2002, and Leather & Lace also recently quit. American Bush continues to operate, with its dancers wearing G-strings and pasties.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld an Erie, Pa., ordinance requiring dancers to wear at least a minimum of clothing, rejecting arguments that nude dancing was protected by the First Amendment as expressive conduct.

Attorney Andrew McCullough, who represents the dance clubs, nevertheless maintained that dancers have the right, under both the state and federal constitutions, to perform nude.

"We have a duty to look at this separately from the feds," he argued Wednesday.

McCullough also represents 10 dancers who filed suit in federal court, claiming the ordinance violates their right of free expression.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins refused to grant the women a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ordinance while the lawsuit was pending. He said the ordinance was a "modest effort at limitations" on the city's strip clubs and an "appropriate exercise of municipal power."

On Tuesday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Jenkins' decision.

Neither court has ruled on the law's constitutionality, but the 10th Circuit did say that exotic dancing is "at least a distant cousin" to performance art, which has been afforded full constitutional protection by the courts.

Tennessee lawyer Scott Bergthold, who drafts and defends municipal adult-business regulations around the country, represented South Salt Lake for Wednesday's arguments and said the ordinance is in tune with laws that have regulated similar activities in Utah since its days as a territory.

Chief Justice Christine M. Durham asked Bergthold whether the ordinance unfairly allows nudity in uptown venues and theaters, but punishes the same conduct when it occurs in sexually oriented businesses.

Bergthold replied that the ordinance rightly targets the clubs and the illegal activities associated with them.

"'The Dance of the Seven Veils' at the Utah Opera doesn't affect property values," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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