A South Salt Lake ordinance prohibiting all-nude dancing has now withstood the tests of two judges.
U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins said Thursday that the ordinance does not tread on dancers' freedom of expression and that the city acted completely within its power when it decided to further regulate the all-nude dance clubs. The city's ordinance, passed last April, required dancers to partially cover their bodies.
"It would appear to me that the modest effort at limitation . . . requiring the use of G-strings and pasties in no way limits expression," Jenkins said in a verbal ruling following a Thursday hearing. "The modest laws set forth . . . are an appropriate expression of municipal power."
Jenkins' ruling echoes one a few weeks earlier by Utah 3rd District Judge Dennis Frederick, who said that the city's ordinance did not violate the Utah Constitution's guarantees for free speech. Frederick's ruling granted a request by the city to have the case decided in its favor without a trial.
Jenkins' ruling, however, did not end a separate lawsuit brought against the city by eight dancers who have been refused permits to dance in either the all-nude or the semi-nude clubs. But he did deny the dancers' request for work permits while the case was pending.
Even without the dismissal, attorneys for South Salt Lake were pleased with the ruling.
"As for the sexually oriented business ordinance, this is a total victory," city attorney Paul Procter said. "This is a constitutional ordinance."
Unlike the state case, the federal case before Jenkins was more focused on the requirements placed on dancers, such as background checks. All of the dancers included in the case have had their permits to work as dancers denied, either because of past criminal records or wanting to dance completely naked.
All of those permits were denied in 2001 when the permit approvals were given at the discretion of the police chief or because of guidelines established by Mayor Randy Fitts in an executive order. However, the City Council approved amendments to its alcohol ordinance Wednesday that established specific guidelines for anyone working in an alcohol-serving establishment.
Attorney Andrew McCullough, who is representing the dancers, said that prohibiting exotic dancing in nude or semi-nude clubs because of prior alcohol-related offenses or felonies was unfair, especially since the dancers do not serve or consume alcohol during their shifts. Instead, he suggested the requirements were just another tactic the city was using to get rid of all strip clubs.
"They don't like what we do. They think we're bad, and they want us out of their city," he said.
Along with the licensing requirements, McCullough challenged the constitutionality of the city's sexually oriented business ordinance — which prompted Jenkins' ruling — and even asked four dancers to testify about their work and what effects their denied work permits would have.
Amber Blanke, who dances all-nude without a permit despite having a permit to dance semi-nude, said that her dancing was helping put her husband through school and care for their child. Additionally, the job allows her to pursue a profession that she loves.
"I've been trained in dance since I was a toddler, and I express my art in a nude fashion," she said. "I'm here to defend nudity and the art of appearing in a completely natural state."
Another dancer, 19-year-old Heather Liljenquist, said that unless she was allowed to dance all-nude, she could not work as a dancer until she turned 21.
"I'd be working a job, making minimum wage," she said.