Nude Dancing & the Law

  In 1994, the city of Erie, Pennsylvania adopted an ordinance that required dancers in strip clubs to wear at least minimal clothing. Shortly after the ordinance went into affect, the proprietor of one of these clubs sued the city on First Amendment grounds. The stated reason for the ordinance wasn't moral disapproval of nude dancing, but a concern for what the city called the "secondary effects" of strip clubs, such as prostitution, crime, and diseases. Last Wednesday, by a 6-3 vote, the Court upheld the Erie law. But, in so doing, the justices showed the confused state of the Law and why the Court needs our prayers. Something I've been calling for this week. While six justices voted to uphold the Pennsylvania law, the Court couldn't agree on why it was constitutional. Justice O'Connor's opinion was an example of the Court's confusion. While she conceded that "requiring dancers to wear [minimal clothing] may not greatly reduce these secondary effects," she nevertheless declined to substitute her judgment for that of Erie's elected officials. The problem was that O'Connor, like every member of the Court except justices Scalia and Thomas, simply assumed that nude dancing is protected by the First Amendment. And Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent, the City of Erie had "totally silenced a message the dancers at [the strip club] want to convey." Messages in nude dancing? Is he serious? Only Justices Scalia and Thomas were willing to state the obvious reason why the law was constitutional. As Scalia wrote, "the traditional power of government to foster good morals" is sufficient enough reason to ban nude dancing. Unlike their colleagues, who shy away from the idea of right and wrong, Scalia and Thomas understand that the First Amendment doesn't repeal the ability of local governments to make moral judgments about activities like nude dancing. The silence of the other justices on this matter is evidence of the moral and cultural relativism that pervades the courts. The courts have gone from believing that government must be neutral between religion and irreligion to believing that it must be neutral between virtue and vice. Likewise, the courts have embraced a cultural relativism that treats nude dancing as the equivalent of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech—that is, one person's preferred mode of expression. This moral and cultural confusion is especially troubling since, on the 25th and 26th of this month, the Court is going to hear cases on issues that will define the direction of our culture: partial-birth abortion and the right of the Boy Scouts to ban homosexual scoutmasters. Although the Supreme Court may seem to be beyond political pressure, that's really not true. Three years ago, when disabled folks demonstrated on the Supreme Court steps against declaring assisted suicide constitutional, the Court backed down. They do react to editorials and public opinion. With that in mind, I'm asking BreakPoint listeners to join me in prayer for the Supreme Court on April 25th and 26th. Visit our website [] for a copy of a practical guide to prayer and fasting. Ask your friends to join as well. And then let your voice be heard. Call, write, and speak up, because the upcoming decisions will shape our culture for generations to come.


Chuck Colson


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