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NUDISM & NATURISM

LEGAL ASPECTS

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Topics covered in this essay are:

bulletLaws about Naturism in the U.S. and Canada
bulletEfforts to restrict Naturism
bulletReferences

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Laws about Nudism:

United States

bulletFederal law: No federal US federal law that either allows or prohibits nudity. The courts have not ruled whether the right to engage in naturism is guaranteed by the Constitution under its freedom of expression provision. Thus, the legality of various forms of undress is currently left up to the individual states and localities to decide. Nudity is generally allowed in some areas of some national parks, unless local laws have overriding jurisdiction. 

In 1981 (Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61, 65-66), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on nudity, as it appears in movies, plays and TV. They found that: "Entertainment, as well as political and ideological speech, is protected; motion pictures, programs broadcast by radio and television, and live entertainment, such as musical and dramatic works, fall within the First Amendment guarantee ... Nor may an entertainment program be prohibited solely because it displays the nude human figure. 'Nudity alone' does not place otherwise protected material outside the mantle of the First Amendment." This might be interpreted as protecting a naturist's right to engage in a nude demonstration or public performance on a beach. But the ruling does not appear to cover simple nudism.

A photograph of nudists might be considered an innocent picture by some people, an erotic photo by others, and pornography by still others. U.S. law restricts, and in some cases criminalizes, child pornography. Included are books, magazines, periodicals, films, video tapes. Child pornography is carefully defined in federal law as "any visual depiction, if—
(A) the producing of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and
(B) such visual depiction is of such conduct."
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bulletState laws: In Alabama, a law is on the books which prohibits lobbying in behalf of nudism. It is clearly unconstitutional and could not withstand a court challenge. The law is not being enforced at this time.
bulletLocal laws: A referendum in Newport, Maine, was conduced at the time of the 1998-NOV-3 elections. It would have asked selectmen in the city to ban the display of "female breasts ... visible from a public way." The proposal was defeated. The vote was triggered by complaints about a resident mowing her lawn while topless.

Canada: Two federal laws (Section 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code) apply across the country. 

bullet Section 173 prohibits "indecent acts" done either:
bulletin a public place, or
bulletin any place, if done with the intent to "insult or offend"

It also forbids "exposure of genital organs" for a "sexual purpose" to someone under the age of 14. As is common Canadian practice, Parliament leaves the exact definition of these terms up to courts to decide. Various Provincial courts have decided that:

bulletsimple nude sunbathing is not indecent.
bulletstreaking is not prohibited under the law.
bulletthe inside of a car can be a public place if it is viewable from the street.
bulletthe doorway of a home can be a public place.
bulletSection 174 prohibits being "so clad as to offend against public decency or order" while exposed to public view. Courts have decided that nude swimming is not within the range of this law. This section seems to have been used mainly against nude and semi-nude performances in commercial establishments.

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Efforts to restrict Naturism:

The Naturist Education Foundation wrote:

"Two years ago NEF produced a video, 'Baring the Threat', in which the threat of the radical religious right to Naturism was explored. At that time groups like the 'Christian Coalition,' 'American Family Association' and others were attempting to impose their morals on all North Americans by securing whatever government seats they could acquire...Although these radical groups have a broad agenda for controlling America's politics and morals, they are focusing attacks on what would seem to be a minor issue: mere nudity.

The Naturist Action Committee (NAC) stated:

"When the religious right failed to stir up enough community outrage over something as simple and familiar as skinny-dipping, they took a new tack -- radical extremists claimed that family Naturism is a form of child abuse. NAC has been tracking this trend in state legislatures and the courts for over six years now..." 1
As of 1997-FEB, the NAC was "actively lobbying against bills...[including] restrictions or outright bans on nudity in more than two dozen state legislatures throughout the United States...Our opposition...the radical right...is well funded and well organized as a citizen lobby with the goal of putting a thousand such laws in place by the year 2000.

By the end of 1998, the Naturist Action Committee had identified legislation in 40 U.S. states, the Virgin Islands and Canada that would stop or impede nude recreation. 2

Some municipal, county, and state legislation limiting public nudity is aimed at controlling behavior in topless bars, XXX rated pornography, etc. However, unless carefully worded, it can limit the freedom of naturists to be nude in wilderness areas, in private nudist resorts and even in their own homes. A common approach among some state legislators is to introduce a bill to tackle what is perceived to be a social problem. Then they word the bill so inclusively as to criminalize naturist activities at private resorts, and topless beach wear, thong bathing suits, etc. In some cases, these bills would prohibit nudity even in the privacy of one's home. Since most legislators are lawyers and exhibit at least normal intelligence, it is apparent that such duplicity is intentional.

The Naturist Action Committee claims that its "success rate against proposed anti-nudity laws in U.S. state legislatures over the past three years exceeds 94%." 3 They list legislative successes in FL and TX during 1997; in KY & PA during 1998; in MA, MO, & NE during 1999; and in KS & WA so far during 2000.

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References:

  1. The Naturist Action Committee (NAC) alerts interested persons to legislative threats against nudists. They are sponsored by the Pilgrim Naturalists of Boston. See: http://www.naturist.com/NAC/ They have an archive of past alerts at: http://www.tiac.net/users/
  2. The Naturist Action Committee maintains a list of anti-naturist legislation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. See: http://www.naturist.com/NAC/ 
  3. "Success Stories," at: http://www.nac.oshkosh.net/Success_Stories/
  4. "Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors," U.S. Code: Title 18, Part I, Chapter 110, Paragraph 2252. See: http://assembler.law.cornell.edu/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-AUG-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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