Can a city prohibit totally nude dancing?

Friday, November 15, 2002

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled that a city or state can prohibit totally nude dancing. In its 1991 decision Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., the high court upheld an Indiana public-indecency law prohibiting public nudity. Then, in its 2000 decision City of Erie v. Pap’s A.M., the high court upheld a similar city law prohibiting public nudity. By its terms, the ordinance regulates conduct alone. “It does not target nudity that contains an erotic message,” the Court wrote. “Rather, it bans all public nudity, regardless of whether that nudity is accompanied by expressive activity.”

The high court determined that a city could prohibit totally nude dancing based on the secondary-effects rationale. “The State’s interest in preventing harmful secondary effects is not related to the suppression of expression,” the Court wrote.