Judge: San Francisco Nudity Ban Can Go Into Effect Friday

A federal judge upheld the city's ban over a legal challenge by a small pro-nudity group

By Lisa Leff and Melissa Pamer
|  Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013  |  Updated 12:16 PM PDT
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Nudity Ban Can Go Into Effect Friday, Judge Says

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A San Francisco deputy rushes to cover a nude woman who stripped off her clothes during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 4, 2012, when the board approved a nudity ban that was upheld in federal court Tuesday.

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Free-spirited Fog City may soon become a bit more buttoned up, so to speak.

Despite the opposition of a group of nudists, the city of San Francisco may this week implement a ban on most displays of public nudity following a court ruling that the ordinance does not violate the free speech rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen on Tuesday refused to block the ban temporarily or to allow a lawsuit challenging it to proceed. The city ordinance, passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in votes in December, is set to go into effect Friday.

"To put it another way, as of Friday in San Francisco, no nudes is good news," joked the San Francisco Chronicle.

A group of pro-nudity activists had filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban.

"In spite of what plaintiffs argue, nudity in and of itself is not inherently expressive,'' Chen wrote in an 18-page opinion.

The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 last month to prohibit residents and visitors over age 5 from exposing their genitals on public streets, in parks or plazas or while using public transit. The board had passed the measure on a more narrow margin during an initial vote in November.

Violations will cost $100 on first offense, with repeat violations punishable by as much as $500 in fines and a year in jail.

The measure was introduced in response to a group of nudists that regularly gathers in the city's predominantly gay Castro District, where some business owners and residents said they had had enough of the naked activists.

The threat of seeing outlawed a right that many people associate with free-spirited San Francisco prompted public protests and disrobing at supervisors meetings.

The activists who challenged the measure in court also had argued that the ordinance was unfair because it grants exceptions for public nudity at permitted public events such as the city's gay pride parade and the annual Bay-to-Breakers foot race.

Chen also rejected that argument.

"The plaintiffs took an unlikely position in their case that if they couldn't be naked everywhere, no one could be naked anywhere," City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. "We believed their legal challenge to be baseless, and we're grateful that the court agreed."

Christina DiEdoardo, a lawyer for nudity advocates who sued, said her clients were considering an appeal.

DiEdoardo noted that the judge indicated he would be open to considering a revised lawsuit if advocates could cite examples of their civil rights being trampled, which could be easier to do once the ban is enforced.

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