In defense of nudie bars

By A. C. Kleinheider
web posted May 15, 2000

On March 29, of this year the Supreme Court made it easier to restrict and regulate those adult entertainment establishments known, to those familiar with character Al Bundy on Married With Children, as "nudie bars". The 6-3 decision attacks the basic ideal of liberty in our society and reveals a disturbing lack of common sense. The court decided, in an opinion delivered by Justice O'Connor, that restrictions on public nude dancing could be upheld if it was in the interest of combating dangerous "secondary effects" that such establishments present, i.e. street crime and prostitution. Two justices, Scalia and Thomas, agreed with the decision and cited the "traditional power of government to foster good morals" as sufficient reason to regulate this form of adult entertainment. The people who write and interpret our laws need to reflect more on the true spirit of America when they make decisions that affect our freedom. America is the land of liberty. Liberty will always have secondary effects and we must be prepared to accept and embrace that basic truth. America is a good nation but should not pretend that it can create God's kingdom on earth. Some things we simply have to let slide.

I must confess that I have, once or twice, been a patron to an establishment that featured nude dancing. Am I proud of this fact? Not especially. Did the experience enrich my spirit or intellect to make me a better person? Of course not. I believe in good and evil and that moral relativism is a danger to the soul, I also recognize that there are gray areas. Few of us are always righteous or always corrupt. In this life we are constantly presented with situations. Some situations are good and some are bad, and many fall somewhere in between. It is in how we choose to handle the in-between, the shades of gray, that shape our moral being. A free society has to let people make as many choices as possible so they may determine their own moral destiny. Situations where no one's property or person are being violated should be beyond the reach of the State. It is not the business of our government to look out for our moral health. Do we need help from our church, our family, our friends to help enrich our soul and get through this life a good person? Absolutely. Government mandates will not save our souls. Salvation or spiritual peace is achieved apart from the State.

Justices Scalia and Thomas are good justices but in this case they are wrong. This nation is about freedom. If we start regulating and legislating the gray areas of morality we create more trouble than we need. Gun rights advocates constantly parrot the line, "If you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns."

As trite and cliché as that saying is, it is fundamentally true. When you outlaw "guns" you leave them to those with a criminal mindset who are perfectly willing to ignore the law. This forces people who want guns for legitimate purpose to decide to either give up something they know isn't criminal or reject the law, giving them the identity of a lawbreaker.

Giving that identity to a citizen is a deep blow to his morale and may lead him to more easily embrace lawlessness the next time he is confronted with a similar choice. While admittedly morally ambiguous, going to a "nudie bar" is nowhere near as morally debilitating as prostitution. If you over regulate or shut down "nudie bars" you could conceivably drive those in search of Adult entertainment to the more dangerous choice of prostitution.

While strip clubs are subject to all kinds of red tape and judicial scrutiny, one can open a phone book and find ads for escorts, massage, and "models" which are, for all intents and purposes, solicitations for prostitution. Strip bars however are not the whorehouses that can be reached so easily via the Yellow pages. Strip clubs will not spread disease. The acts the dancers perform for money, while not anything to describe to their fathers, are not sex acts. Their performance may be sexual in nature but no sexual acts take place in nudie bars. As Chris Rock says, "No matter what a stripper tells you, there is no sex in the Champagne room. None."

Justice O'Connor didn't address the morality of nude dancing, she simply ruled that it could be regulated on the grounds that the government had an interest in battling the "secondary effects" that public nude dancing creates, crime, prostitution, etc. The main thrust of her opinion was that the regulation requiring dancers to wear a g-string and pasties is a minimal intrusion on the dancers freedom in view of the government's interest in combating the "secondary effects" of such establishments. This is typical.

"Secondary effects" is the rationale statist's use for every intrusion into human life. The State needs to regulate the Internet because pornographers and hate groups use it to ply their wares. The State needs to register handguns because otherwise guns might fall into criminal hands. To political and judicial elites everything has a potentially harmful secondary effect. You shouldn't be friends with smokers because the secondary effects might give you cancer. Maybe you shouldn't ask out attractive woman because of the secondary effect of rejection. Maybe you shouldn't drive to work because a secondary effect of driving is a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer. This is irrational. Sometimes we have to say to hell with the secondary effects. Otherwise no one would be able to leave his or her house. So what if there is a little more crime around adult businesses.

What price are we willing to pay for the elimination of every little secondary effect?

Our political elites are not as bold and blatant as tyrants past. They don 't seize your freedom quickly and immediately. The people see that coming. A true fascist is rather easy to spot. The true enemies of the people are the ones who don't show their face; that don't tip their hands, the incrementalists. Modern Statists come for the little freedoms. You don't really need a toilet tank with that much water, its wasteful. You don't really need guns; we'll protect you. You don't really need nudie bars --- they are no good for you, they have secondary effects. Incremental encroachment on our freedom has a secondary effect; it's called slavery.

The lap dance is not a clear and present danger to the health of our republic. It is a vice, maybe even a sin, which no one should make a habit of, but it falls far short of wickedness. Our own nation conducts illegal wars murdering innocent civilians, blooding the hands of our enlisted men and women in the name of human rights or democracy. Pedophiles lurk in every neighborhood and Internet chat room. We have deadbeat dads who thumb their nose at their responsibility to support their children. Real wickedness and neglect exists in our nation and we need to bring the full force of the law against those who rape, steal, and murder. Just as we should have better things to do than frequent a nudie bar, we should have better things to do than legislate against them.

A. C. Kleinheider writes from Nashville, Tennessee. He can be reached at

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