How the G-String Became an American Crimefighter

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Concerned with the proliferation of nudity in movies and on the Web? Read on. Those detached outposts may eventually become the only venues for libidinous Americans to gaze at naked strangers. The United States Supreme Court voted six to three Wednesday to uphold an Erie, Pa., statute that requires exotic dancers to cover their unmentionables with G-strings and pasties. The Court's reasoning: "Gentlemen's clubs" are breeding grounds for criminals, and the public interest served by empowering communities to self-police outweighs the free speech considerations of complete nudity. There's reason to believe the decision spells very bad news for strip club owners and patrons across the nation. In 1998, when the Court upheld New York City's right to limit the establishments to a handful of zoned areas, other cities followed suit. "Municipalities have a long record of trying to shut these places down," notes TIME legal writer Alain Sanders. "Now that the Court has issued this ruling, it's a safe bet that many municipalities will act swiftly to ban nude bars."

As with all rulings that appear to erode First Amendment rights, the judgment left many civil libertarians with a sour taste in their mouths. Some take issue with the notion that the addition of a G-string and pasties on a dancer would reduce the crime and other problems associated with erotic entertainment. Others warn that once you begin to limit speech, the slope becomes very slippery. "In past cases the Court allowed municipalities to use zoning to limit nude bars," says Sanders. "Now they're saying you can actually regulate the content of speech, and that's dangerous ground." Still others argue that if you censor erotica, the public will find other ways of getting it — and that could drive the trade underground, either into speakeasy-type establishments or onto web sites serving up such fare. But even First Amendment advocates must have been able to glean some entertainment value from the case — after all, it's not every day that you hear Sandra Day O'Connor pontificate on the erotic value lost when a naked woman dons a G-string.