A federal judge considering San Francisco’s public nudity ban rejected arguments Thursday that simply disrobing in public was protected political speech akin to flag burning.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen made his comments during a 90-minute hearing held to consider the new law requiring the covering of the “genitals, perineum, and anal region” that is set to go into effect Feb. 1.
A narrowly divided Board of Supervisors passed the law last month after residents and visitors to The City’s renowned Castro district complained about what they called unsightly and unsanitary nudity in a plaza in the heart of the predominantly gay neighborhood.
Public nudity activists filed a federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law, arguing the government-ordered cover-up violates their First Amendment rights to express their political views. Their supporters also complained the law contradicts The City’s live-and-let-live reputation.
But Chen said Thursday it takes more than simply disrobing in public to make a political statement, as he rejected arguments that a public nudity ban was akin to outlawing the burning of the American flag.
“Flag burning has a pretty clear message,” he said, while a naked person in public could be simply sunbathing.
“Being nude, it seems to me, doesn’t have the same obvious particularized message,” he said after the hearing held to consider the competing legal demands by The City’s attorney and activists.
The judge said he would issue a written ruling on the competing requests before the end of the month.
The City wants the judge to toss out the lawsuit, while activists were requesting that Chen block the ban from going into effect until the legal action is resolved.
If the ban becomes law, a first offense carries a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail.