Oregon Nudists Get Their 'Strip' On In Free Speech Debate

PORTLAND, Ore.—Nevada may have legal prostitution, but Oregon has something better: Free speech. Really free speech.

"No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right," is how Article I, Sec. 8, "Freedom of speech and press," of the Oregon Constitution reads.

Of course, freedom isn't good enough for some people, notably state Sen. Mark Hass (D) and state Reps. Tobias Read (D), Jeff Barker (D) and Andy Olson (R). That bipartisan group has sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 28 which would amend Article I, Sec. 8 to add, "This section does not prohibit the state or any county, municipality or district from regulating the location at which a business or organization may offer live entertainment or other services performed by a person in a state of nudity, as defined by the jurisdiction imposing the regulation."

In other words, strip clubs.

But, as the Senate Judiciary Committee found out yesterday, it's not just strip clubs. According to an Associated Press story about Monday's hearing, "Nudist advocates testified against a bill that would ask voters to change free-speech protections in the state constitution to let communities keep strip clubs out of neighborhoods. ... Nudists fret that a stodgy city or county government would use that phrase to pounce on nudist clubs. Nude karaoke might be considered live entertainment. Mowing the lawn in the buff might be considered a service."

"We want to protect our rights," said John Kinman, former president of the American Association for Nude Recreation. "We feel comfort in knowing this Legislature or the cities can't pass laws that prohibit what we do."

But although the American Civil Liberties Union also opposes the constitutional change, according to the story by Jonathan J. Cooper, no representatives of the state's numerous strip clubs have appeared to testify against the bill.

Religious conservatives have tried several times over the past 20 years or so to amend Oregon's free speech clause either at the ballot box or by judicial fiat, and five years ago, the city of Roanoke attempted to pass a zoning ordinance to keep strip clubs at least 300 feet away from schools, churches and other "sensitive uses." That and similar measures failed because they were in violation of the state Constitution.

So far, there is no indication as to when the Senate will vote on the measure.