After many years of valiantly fighting against all-nude strip clubs, South Salt Lake finally got a favorable ruling from the Utah Supreme Court last week. The city has long sought to end its reputation as a regional center of nude dancing, and now it has some good ammunition. At least, it will be able to require some minimal covering for dancers.
But more than just helping South Salt Lake's problem, the Supreme Court's 3-2 decision was its first significant ruling on nude dancing, setting an important precedent for all other local governments in the state.
The 90 pages of majority and dissenting opinions add up to what we trust most Utahns would consider a good dose of common sense. The people who wrote Utah's constitution did not intend for its free-speech protections to extend to naked dancing that does little more than arouse. Nor were they neutral on the subject of nude dancing. In fact, they passed laws specifically banning men and women from exposing themselves in a way that is "offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to vicious or lewd thoughts or acts."
The court's majority opinion, written by Justice Jill Parrish, is a masterful examination of the historical framework under which the state's constitution was written. Proponents of nude dancing often note that Utah's constitution provides for broader free speech than does the U.S. Constitution, which is true. However, Parrish has shown that, even with its broader language, the folks who drafted Utah's document didn't intend for it to protect all-nude dance clubs.
In fact, the historical evidence makes that "inconceivable," she wrote in her conclusion. "Extending free speech protections in this area would run contrary to the intent of the framers of our constitution and the Utah citizens who voted it into effect. Were we to do so, we would not be interpreting our constitution but substituting our own value judgment for that of the people of Utah when they drafted and ratified the constitution. It is not our place to do so."
That's refreshing language in an age where courts often do the opposite.
Six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for cities such as South Salt Lake to require at least a G-string or a pasty for all dancers. That court also acknowledged that nude dancing can lead to crime and other social ills. Again, this should be obvious.
Fortunately, Utah's constitution won't be twisted in such a way as to make cities here powerless against such a thing. Unfortunately, cities still can't outlaw mostly nude dancing, as well.