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Strip Club Argues Constitutional Rights Violated

SCHOFIELD, Wisconsin – Although some regard adult entertainment as the most base form of business, the battles over how to restrict those businesses are fought in the nation’s highest courts over the principles enshrined in our most cherished constitutional guarantees.

Schofield is merely the most recent in a long list of communities in which adult entertainment entrepreneurs and municipal governments have found themselves at odds. Cities across the country – Sioux City, Iowa, Erie, Pa., and Renton, Wash., among them – have battled adult entertainment businesses and created a body of legal opinions that govern how municipalities can restrict such businesses.
It’s a complicated area of constitutional law, said Donald Downs, a First Amendment law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and there are no clear-cut answers when it comes to what is legal regulation and what is unconstitutional.

Grand Daddy’s gentlemen’s club on Grand Avenue opened as a semi-nude club at the beginning of the month. Since then, city officials have tried to restrict adult entertainment there through ordinances dealing with zoning and alcohol and entertainment licenses.

The club’s owners, Ed Kraimer Jr. and Gerald Morrell, have responded with a lawsuit in federal court that claims their constitutional rights have been violated. And the law may very well be on their side.

Municipalities cannot just simply ban nude dancing, Downs said, because it’s an act of expression recognized by the Supreme Court. That doesn’t mean, however, that municipalities can’t do anything to regulate adult entertainment businesses.
Although many people have a hard time understanding how a young woman peeling off her clothes for money is protected by the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court long has held that acts are protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
“If all we wanted to protect was popular speech or expression, we wouldn’t need the First Amendment,” Olson said. “The First Amendment is to protect the most unpopular speech and expression. Many people misunderstand that.”
Government officials sometimes target adult entertainment businesses under laws banning obscenity, but obscenity standards are difficult to determine or enforce, and most adult entertainment passes legal muster.

There is substantial case law that guides courts in deciding cases in which municipalities try to regulate adult entertainment businesses.

Restrictions on licensing and zoning, for example, provide government officials with some options for regulating adult entertainment businesses – such as preventing alcohol sales in bars that feature nude dancers – but cities are limited in their ability to completely shut out such businesses.
Schofield has tried to prevent Grand Daddy’s from operating as a strip club mostly through zoning decisions. City officials adopted an ordinance in July that limits the location of adult-oriented businesses to an industrial section of the community.
Limiting the area of operation is a classic way to curtail adult businesses, but to do so, cities must justify the restriction by showing negative secondary effects such as crime and decreased property values that are a result of the business, said Dom Gordon, a leader of the antipornography group Citizens for Decency in Marathon County.

Many studies have been conducted to gauge the effect of adult entertainment businesses on a community, but there is no clear-cut evidence whether such businesses hurt cities.

Gordon of Rothschild said studies show sex-related crimes increase two to five times when adult entertainment businesses open in an area, property values decrease and prostitution increases.

“It can damage the community,” she said.

But other studies have shown the secondary effects of a strip club in a neighborhood are no different than any other tavern, or even other high-traffic businesses that do not serve alcohol. Some adult entertainment businesses even have lower secondary effects on their neighborhoods because they have better security and receive more attention from police and residents.

Downs said regulating adult entertainment businesses because of their secondary effects is a stronger legal approach than using zoning or licensing restrictions.

“There’s a chance with secondary effects,” Downs said.
For now, the city and the club’s owners don’t even agree on whether Grand Daddy’s offers adult entertainment. The club’s dancers perform wearing skimpy attire such as thongs and dance on a stage with poles, but they don’t disrobe entirely. City ordinances prohibit dancers from showing “specified anatomical areas” such as genitals or the areola of a female breast.

At Grand Daddy’s, if the dancers are bare-breasted, they wear pasties, which are adhesive patches that cover the areolas.

Schofield officials, meanwhile, are investigating whether the club is violating city ordinances. And the federal case will take months before it is heard by a judge. Olson said a temporary trial date has been set for November, but it’s unlikely that the case will make it that far.

“There are plenty of hurdles on both sides,” Downs said. “It’s not easy to determine the outcome.”



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