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Right to be nude vs. contemporary social values

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An article written recently by Jordan Bloom of Young Naturists America noted that "there are many laws that protect people and allow them to express themselves."

His point is that many organizations and the individuals who belong to them that advocate negative things like racism and violence have first amendment protection to express their views even though most in society find them and their message abhorrent.

Bloom questions the "double standard" that he sees existing in America, the fundamental unfairness that nudity is met with intolerance while others who espouse repugnant philosophies based on violence and hate are free to spread their message without censure.

Jordan questions whether this situation isn't evidence that something has "gone very wrong in the progression of our core values in America today."

[More from Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner: A picture is worth a thousand words]

Having read several pieces written by Jordan Bloom I think I can safely say that we hold many common beliefs, one being that it is ridiculous that nudity remains such a taboo in modern society.

Public nudity is still considered a violation of social norms and elicits social censure. Thus the taboo impinges on the right of naturists to live their wholesome and beneficial lifestyle. Most of us were raised in a culture where we taught to view nudity as shameful. I agree those are not positive social values.

Still, I think it important to understand that naturists do enjoy the same rights that organizations like the one Bloom used as an example that promotes a objectionable philosophical message. Naturists do have the right of free speech. There is nothing that prevents naturists from advocating their beliefs and championing their lifestyle in the public forum.

Similarly, naturists have the right to organize, assemble and petition for social change. They just don't have the right in most respects to appear nude in public while doing it. Nudism is a fundamentally different thing in those respects. Advocating nudity vocally or in writing is speech, being nude is not speech or even conduct that is recognized in law as "expressive speech."

Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote in concurring in the judgment of Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U.S. 560 (1991) that "nudity per se is not expression. It is a condition, not an activity, and the voluntary assumption of that condition, without more, apparently expresses nothing beyond the view that the condition is somehow appropriate to the circumstances. But every voluntary act implies some such idea, and the implication is thus so common and minimal that calling all voluntary activity expressive would reduce the concept of expression to the point of the meaningless."

The Supreme Court has ruled many times that there are no rights of free speech or due process issues involved in the state of being nude. Justice William Douglas, in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 77 S. Ct. 1304, 1 L.Ed.2d 1498 (1957), wrote that "no one would suggest that the First Amendment permits nudity in public places ...." All of the reported decisions adhere to the view that the constitution does not protect public nudity from exposure to governmental regulation and limitations.

Finally, the court has opined on many occasions that regulation of public nudity is a legitimate use of the government's police powers because the government does have a justifiable interest in and constitutional authority to enforce moral standards.

There is no question that societal intolerance and government regulation of nudity impinges on the basic human rights of naturists to live their lifestyle. Laws regulating public nudity, in my opinion should be changed so that only public lewdness not simple nudity is criminalized. In that regard, the current Oregon statute that deals with public nudity is a model that all states would do well to adopt.

As Jordan Bloom frames it, the point isn't really existing law but contemporary social values and norms that are most responsible for naturists not being given a fair shake especially when it comes to things like having more access to national parks, national forests and beach areas to enjoy naturist activities. That is what needs to change.

[Join the hundreds who have already expressed their opinions: take the naturist poll!]

Too often, naturists are seen appealing to the constitution for greater rights of expression when in truth constitutional protections of the right to be nude do not exist. Expansion of the rights of naturists to live their lifestyle is never going to be won in courts of law but in the court of public opinion. The minds of those who find simple nudity offensive because they insist that nudity is always sexual or otherwise indecent must be changed.

While acknowledging that it is an imperfect analogy, homosexuality has in the past been taboo in our society. Being homosexual violated social norms and elicited social censure and aspects of it were even criminalized.

Yet in present times, the LGBT movement has made huge strides, not by getting laws changed but by changing minds. They have persevered in getting their message across, they have educated and in return they have engendered greater tolerance and acceptance from society. Only after changing minds were laws changed that provided more rights. That is a model that naturists ought to emulate.

Want to learn more about laws that impact naturism? Check out Toni Egbert's Naturist Law Library at the Naturist Education Foundation website.

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