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Is public nudity a First Amendment right?

Does public nudity compromise public safety?
Does public nudity compromise public safety?
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A federal judge is weighing the constitutionality of a ban on public nudity in San Francisco. The ban is scheduled to take effect next week. The new prohibition was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last November. The ordinance states, "public exposure of ...private parts invades the privacy of members of the public who are unwillingly or unexpectedly exposed to such conduct."

Nudist activists argue the ban stifles free expression. They are suing city and county officials in a First Amendment challenge. In court hearings last week, the plaintiffs' attorney said public nudity is free expression akin to court-protected flag-burning. Judge Edward Chen said the analogy wasn't so clear cut. But he also questioned why the county ordinance did not include an exemption for nude acts of political expression, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The judge is expected to rule before the ban takes effect on February 1.

How did public nudity become a thing in San Francisco? Why is it so important to these activists? Do you view it as a First Amendment right? Does someone else's nudity interfere with your privacy or safety - as the ordinance states?


Christina DiEdoardo, Attorney, Law offices of Christina DiEdoardo; representing nudist activists in U.S. District Court

Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law