Federal law: No federal US federal law that either allows or prohibits
nudity. The courts have not ruled whether the right to engage in naturism is guaranteed by
the Constitution under its freedom of expression provision. Thus, the legality of various
forms of undress is currently left up to the individual states and localities to decide. Nudity is
generally allowed in some areas of some national parks, unless local laws have overriding jurisdiction.
1981 (Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61, 65-66),
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on nudity, as it appears in movies, plays
and TV. They found that: "Entertainment, as well as political
and ideological speech, is protected; motion pictures, programs
broadcast by radio and television, and live entertainment, such as
musical and dramatic works, fall within the First Amendment guarantee
... Nor may an entertainment program be prohibited solely because it
displays the nude human figure. 'Nudity alone' does not place
otherwise protected material outside the mantle of the First
Amendment." This might be interpreted as protecting a
naturist's right to engage in a nude demonstration or public
performance on a beach. But the ruling does not appear to cover simple nudism.
A photograph of nudists might be considered an innocent picture by some
people, an erotic photo by others, and pornography by still others. U.S.
law restricts, and in some cases criminalizes, child pornography.
Included are books, magazines, periodicals, films, video tapes. Child
pornography is carefully defined in federal law as "any visual
(A) the producing of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor
engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and
(B) such visual depiction is of such conduct."4
State laws: In Alabama, a law
is on the books which prohibits lobbying in behalf of nudism. It is
clearly unconstitutional and could not withstand a court challenge. The
law is not being enforced at this time.
Local laws: A referendum in Newport, Maine, was conduced at the time of the 1998-NOV-3
elections. It would have asked selectmen in the city to ban the display of "female
breasts ... visible from a public way." The proposal was defeated. The vote was
triggered by complaints about a resident mowing her lawn while topless.
Canada: Two federal laws (Section 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code) apply across
in any place, if done with the intent to "insult or offend"
It also forbids "exposure of genital organs" for a "sexual
purpose" to someone under the age of 14. As is common Canadian practice, Parliament
leaves the exact definition of these terms up to courts to decide. Various Provincial
courts have decided that:
simple nude sunbathing is not indecent.
streaking is not prohibited under the law.
the inside of a car can be a public place if it is viewable from the street.
the doorway of a home can be a public place.
Section 174 prohibits being "so clad as to offend against public decency or
order" while exposed to public view. Courts have decided that nude swimming is
not within the range of this law. This section seems to have been used mainly against nude
and semi-nude performances in commercial establishments.
"Two years ago NEF produced a video, 'Baring the Threat', in which the threat of the radical
religious right to Naturism was explored. At that time groups like the 'Christian Coalition,'
'American Family Association' and others were attempting to impose their morals on all North
Americans by securing whatever government seats they could acquire...Although these radical
groups have a broad agenda for controlling America's politics and morals, they are focusing
attacks on what would seem to be a minor issue: mere nudity.
The Naturist Action Committee (NAC) stated:
"When the religious right failed to stir up enough community outrage over something as simple
and familiar as skinny-dipping, they took a new tack -- radical extremists claimed that family
Naturism is a form of child abuse. NAC has been tracking this trend in state legislatures and
the courts for over six years now..."1
As of 1997-FEB, the NAC was "actively lobbying against bills...[including] restrictions or
outright bans on nudity in more than two dozen state legislatures throughout the United
States...Our opposition...the radical right...is well funded and well organized as a
citizen lobby with the goal of putting a thousand such laws in place by the year 2000.
By the end of 1998, the Naturist Action Committee had identified
legislation in 40 U.S. states, the Virgin Islands and Canada that would stop or
impede nude recreation. 2
Some municipal, county, and state legislation limiting public nudity is aimed at controlling
behavior in topless bars, XXX rated pornography, etc. However, unless carefully worded, it can
limit the freedom of naturists to be nude in wilderness areas, in private nudist resorts and
even in their own homes. A common approach among some state legislators is to introduce a bill
to tackle what is perceived to be a social problem. Then they word the bill so
inclusively as to criminalize naturist activities at private resorts, and topless beach wear,
thong bathing suits, etc. In some cases, these bills would prohibit nudity even
in the privacy of one's home. Since most legislators are lawyers and exhibit at
least normal intelligence, it is apparent that such duplicity is intentional.
The Naturist Action Committee claims that its "success rate
against proposed anti-nudity laws in U.S. state legislatures over the past three
years exceeds 94%." 3 They list legislative
successes in FL and TX during 1997; in KY & PA during 1998; in MA, MO, &
NE during 1999; and in KS & WA so far during 2000.
The Naturist Action Committee maintains a list of anti-naturist
legislation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Puerto Rico
and the U.S. Virgin Islands. See: http://www.naturist.com/NAC/