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Texas Justices To Weigh Free Speech Rights With ‘Pole Tax’

from www.nytimes.com – Is exotic dancing a form of free speech?

I’ll bet you didn’t think that was an economics question. But it is, thanks to some tax-averse strip club owners in Texas.

You see, in 2007 the Texas State Legislature passed a law requiring a $5-per-person tax on strip club patrons.

Supporters of the law have suggested that, like cigarette or alcohol taxes, this law counteracts negative externalities, in this case objectification of and therefore maybe even violence against women. Perhaps to drive this point home, the revenue from the tax has been designated to help pay for treatment and prevention programs for sexual abuse and domestic violence.

But the Texas Entertainment Association, an industry group that represents strip clubs, has sued to stop the tax. The organization argues that nude dancing is a form of free expression, and so the law violates the First Amendment by improperly “singling out” a particular form of expression for taxation.

Last June, a Texas appeals court sided with the strip clubs.

“While nude dancing ‘falls only within the outer ambit of the First Amendment’s protection,’ it is nevertheless protected as expressive conduct,” the majority opinion said.

Last week, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments are scheduled for March.

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