Utah High Court Rules Against Nude Dancing Appeal

Rhett Pardon
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The clothes must go back on.

That’s what the Utah Supreme Court said Friday, ruling that the right of exotic dancers to bare all is not a fundamental freedom protected by the state Constitution.

Utah justices, 3-2, decided to uphold a South Salt Lake ordinance that effectively requires dancers to wear pasties and G-strings.

The case goes back nearly three years when three nude dance clubs — American Bush, Leather & Lace and Paradise — challenged the ordinance, but when the case concluded only one club survived — American Bush.

The South Salt Lake City Council voted in 2001 to eliminate all-nude performances, nearly one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that municipalities can restrict nude dancing. The ordinance forced the three clubs, which by law could not serve alcohol, to either cover up or shut down.

“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,” Justice Jill Parish wrote in a 90-page ruling. “Were we to do so, we would not be interpreting our constitution, but substituting our own value judgment for that of the people in Utah when they drafted and ratified the constitution. It is not our place to do so.”

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based attorney Scott Bergthold, who defended the South Salt Lake’s right to require minimal clothing in sexually oriented businesses, said justices had the right to rule against the clubs.

“They just restricted the manner in which the erotic message is portrayed — not the message itself,” Bergthold said.

W. Andrew McCullough, an Orem, Utah, attorney representing American Bush, is still hopeful to win in a federal case that also challenges South Salt Lake’s ordinance, based on the “secondary effects” caused by nude dancing at the business.