Nudists in San Francisco have only two weeks left to cover up or face consequences unless a federal judge, who heard arguments today in a lawsuit against the city’s public nudity ban, decides to block implementation of the law.
The ordinance, which prohibits public nudity in the city except for children under five years old and at certain permitted events, was the subject of an hour-long hearing this afternoon in front of U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen.
Four nudist activists who filed a lawsuit against the ban sought to block the Feb. 1 implementation of the ordinance with a preliminary injunction, while the city attorney’s office sought to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Chen declined to rule on either motion today, saying he would issue a written ruling by the end of the month.
The nudists, represented by attorney Christina DiEdoardo, argued that being nude in public is protected on constitutional grounds as expressive speech.
“Protected speech often makes people mad, that’s its intent,” DiEdoardo said outside the federal courthouse today before the hearing at a rally where several people stripped down to protest the proposed ban.
Inside the courtroom, DiEdoardo said the city was “trying to squelch the message of the nudists” and that the ordinance also violated the equal protection clause by exempting events like Folsom Street Fair and the Pride Parade.
Deputy City Attorney Tara Steeley argued that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made clear that nudity by itself is not expressive” and that the nudists were causing harm to the city, primarily in the Castro District where they frequently gather.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the legislation and represents the Castro, has said the ordinance was prompted by numerous complaints from residents and business owners in the neighborhood. The Board of Supervisors narrowly passed the proposal by a 6-5 vote last year.
Steeley said outside of court that she was pleased at how the hearing went and thought the judge was receptive to her arguments.
“It’s not about targeting any individuals,” she said. “We’re trying to create an appropriate environment in the city.”
Gypsy Taub, one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, stood nude in front of the federal building before the hearing and said she was determined to move forward no matter what Judge Chen decides.
“We’re not going to stop until this ban goes away,” Taub said.
DiEdoardo said that if the judge does not block the implementation of the ordinance, her clients would then likely appeal the judge’s decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Violators of the ordinance would face citations and initial fines of $100 that would increase for additional offenses, but they would not have to register as sex offenders.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News
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