501 U.S. 560 (1991), 90-26, Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 90-26
Citation:501 U.S. 560, 111 S.Ct. 2456, 115 L.Ed.2d 504, 59 U.S.L.W. 4745
Party Name:Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc.
Case Date:June 21, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 560

501 U.S. 560 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 2456, 115 L.Ed.2d 504, 59 U.S.L.W. 4745



Glen Theatre, Inc.

No. 90-26

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 1991

Argued Jan. 8, 1991




Respondents, two Indiana establishments wishing to provide totally nude dancing as entertainment and individual dancers employed at those establishments, brought suit in the District Court to enjoin enforcement of the state public indecency law -- which requires respondent dancers to wear pasties and a G-string -- asserting that the law's prohibition against total nudity in public places violates the First Amendment. The court held that the nude dancing involved here was not expressive conduct. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that nonobscene nude dancing performed for entertainment is protected expression, and that the statute was an improper infringement of that activity because its purpose was to prevent the message of eroticism and sexuality conveyed by the dancers.

Held: The judgment is reversed.

904 F.2d 1081 (CA9 1990), reversed.

The CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by JUSTICE O'CONNOR and JUSTICE KENNEDY, concluded that the enforcement of Indiana's public indecency law to prevent totally nude dancing does not violate the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression. Pp. 565-572.

(a) Nude dancing of the kind sought to be performed here is expressive conduct within the outer perimeters of the First Amendment, although only marginally so. See, e.g., Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 932. Pp. 565-566.

(b) Applying the four-part test of United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 376-377 -- which rejected the contention that symbolic speech is entitled to full First Amendment protection -- the statute is justified despite its incidental limitations on some expressive activity. The law is clearly within the State's constitutional power. And it furthers a substantial governmental interest in protecting societal order and morality. Public indecency statutes reflect moral disapproval of people appearing in the nude among strangers in public places, and this particular law follows a line of state laws, dating back to 1831, banning public nudity. The States' traditional police power is defined as the authority to provide for the public health, safety, and morals, and such a basis for legislation

Page 561

has been upheld. See, e.g., Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 61. This governmental interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression, since public nudity is the evil the State seeks to prevent, whether or not it is combined with expressive activity. The law does not proscribe nudity in these establishments because the dancers are conveying an erotic message. To the contrary, an erotic performance may be presented without [111 S.Ct. 2458] any state interference, so long as the performers wear a scant amount of clothing. Finally, the incidental restriction on First Amendment freedom is no greater than is essential to the furtherance of the governmental interest. Since the statutory prohibition is not a means to some greater end, but an end itself, it is without cavil that the statute is narrowly tailored. Pp. 566-572.

JUSTICE SCALIA concluded that the statute -- as a general law regulating conduct and not specifically directed at expression, either in practice or on its face -- is not subject to normal First Amendment scrutiny, and should be upheld on the ground that moral opposition to nudity supplies a rational basis for its prohibition. Cf. Employment Division, Oregon Dept. of Human Resources v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872. There is no intermediate level of scrutiny requiring that an incidental restriction on expression, such as that involved here, be justified by an important or substantial governmental interest. Pp. 572-580.

JUSTICE SOUTER, agreeing that the nude dancing at issue here is subject to a degree of First Amendment protection, and that the test of United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, is the appropriate analysis to determine the actual protection required, concluded that the State's interest in preventing the secondary effects of adult entertainment establishments -- prostitution, sexual assaults, and other criminal activity -- is sufficient under O'Brien to justify the law's enforcement against nude dancing. The prevention of such effects clearly falls within the State's constitutional power. In addition, the asserted interest is plainly substantial, and the State could have concluded that it is furthered by a prohibition on nude dancing, even without localized proof of the harmful effects. See Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U.S. 41, 50. Moreover, the interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression, since the pernicious effects are merely associated with nude dancing establishments and are not the result of the expression inherent in nude dancing. Id. at 48. Finally, the restriction is no greater than is essential to further the governmental interest, since pasties and a G-string moderate expression to a minor degree when measured against the dancer's remaining capacity and opportunity to express an erotic message. Pp. 581-587.

Page 562

REHNQUIST, C.J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which O'CONNOR and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., post, p. 572, and SOUTER, J., post, p. 581, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 587.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents are two establishments in South Bend, Indiana, that wish to provide totally nude dancing as entertainment, and individual dancers who are employed at these

Page 563

establishments. They claim that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression prevents the State of Indiana from enforcing its public indecency law to prevent this form of dancing. We reject their claim.

The facts appear from the pleadings and findings of the District Court, and are uncontested here. The Kitty Kat Lounge, Inc. (Kitty Kat) is located in the city of South Bend. It sells alcoholic beverages and presents "go-go dancing." Its proprietor desires to present "totally nude dancing," but an applicable Indiana statute regulating public nudity requires that the dancers wear "pasties" [111 S.Ct. 2459] and a "G-string" when they dance. The dancers are not paid an hourly wage, but work on commission. They receive a 100 percent commission on the first $60 in drink sales during their performances. Darlene Miller, one of the respondents in the action, had worked at the Kitty Kat for about two years at the time this action was brought. Miller wishes to dance nude because she believes she would make more money doing so.

Respondent Glen Theatre, Inc., is an Indiana corporation with a place of business in South Bend. Its primary business is supplying so-called adult entertainment through written and printed materials, movie showings, and live entertainment at an enclosed "bookstore." The live entertainment at the "bookstore" consists of nude and seminude performances and showings of the female body through glass panels. Customers sit in a booth and insert coins into a timing mechanism that permits them to observe the live nude and seminude dancers for a period of time. One of Glen Theatre's dancers, Gayle Ann Marie Sutro, has danced, modeled, and acted professionally for more than 15 years, and in addition to her performances at the Glen Theatre, can be seen in a pornographic movie at a nearby theater. App. to Pet. for Cert. 131-133.

Respondents sued in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana to enjoin the enforcement of the Indiana public indecency statute, Ind.Code § 35-45-4-1

Page 564

(1988), asserting that its prohibition against complete nudity in public places violated the First Amendment. The District Court originally granted respondents' prayer for an injunction, finding that the statute was facially overbroad. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, deciding that previous litigation with respect to the statute in the Supreme Court of Indiana and this Court precluded the possibility of such a challenge,[1] and remanded to the District Court in order for the plaintiffs to pursue their claim that the statute violated the First Amendment as applied to their dancing. Glen Theatre, Inc. v. Pearson, 802 F.2d 287, 288-290 (1986). On remand, the District Court concluded that

Page 565

"the type of dancing these plaintiffs wish to perform is not expressive activity protected by the Constitution of the United States," and rendered judgment in favor of the defendants. Glen Theatre, Inc. v. Civil City of South Bend, 695 F.Supp. 414, 419 (ND Ind.1988). The case was again appealed to the Seventh Circuit, and a panel of that court reversed the District Court, holding that the nude dancing involved here was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. [111 S.Ct. 2460] Miller v. Civil City of South Bend, 887 F.2d 826 (CA7 1989). The Court of Appeals then heard the case en banc, and the court rendered a series of comprehensive and thoughtful opinions. The majority concluded that nonobscene nude dancing performed for entertainment is expression protected by the First Amendment, and that the public indecency statute was an improper infringement of that expressive activity because its purpose was to prevent the message of eroticism and sexuality conveyed by the dancers. Miller v. Civil City of South Bend, 904 F.2d 1081 (CA7 1990). We granted certiorari, 498 U.S. 807 (1990), and now hold that the Indiana statutory requirement that...

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