Our Opinion: Court correct in affirming strip club regulations

Stripped to its fundamentals, the legal arguments pitted public health and welfare versus free expression.

Missouri’s Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with the public health and welfare contention when it upheld a 2010 law increasing restrictions on strip clubs and sex shops.

We agree with the unanimous decision by members of the high court, who affirmed a previous ruling by a Cole County circuit judge.

The law’s provisions ban nudity, contact between semi-nude employees and customers, alcohol consumption, and customers younger than 18. Sexually oriented businesses must remain closed between midnight and 6 a.m., and customers in viewing booths must remain visible to employees.

In its 41-page ruling, the court cited language from the legislation that the intent is to promote public welfare by limiting the industry’s societal effects, including crime, prostitution, drug use, urban blight and spreading disease.

The court rejected arguments by sexually oriented businesses that the law violates the right to free expression as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

The law may limit the time and circumstances regarding expression, but does not prohibit it.

Also rejected by the court was an employment argument advanced by the sexually themed businesses, who contended the restrictions will force them to close and, consequently, eliminate jobs.

The purported harm to business vibrancy and free speech both were addressed by Judge Laura Denvir Stith, who wrote: “To the extent that the no-touch, six-foot buffer, alcohol ban and open-booth restrictions reduce patronage at sexually oriented businesses, it is not because the restrictions unduly reduce speech, but because they reduce the very types of secondary effects that the government is entitled to and intends to reduce.”

In the wake of the ruling, an industry attorney who challenged the state law said he is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The courtroom may change, but the fundamental arguments will remain largely the same.

Based on those arguments, the state law is consistent with promoting the general welfare issues and does not violate the right to free expression.

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