Federal Judge to Rule on Public Nudity Ban in San Francisco

Activists argue public nudity is “symbolic speech” and is therefore protected under the First Amendment.

A federal judge in San Francisco will decide today whether or not to block a new city law requiring people to wear clothing in public. Public nudity activists prompted the hearing when they argued that the ban on public nudity is a violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The activists claim their public nudity is a political statement. The Associated Press reports,

They also argue the law violates equal protection rights because it exempts children younger than 5 and public nudity at certain events such as an annual street fair, the city’s Gay Pride Parade and it Bay-to-Breakers foot race, which is noted for the wacky costumes — or lack thereof — of participants.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors authorized the ban with a 6-5 vote last month after several naked and vocal protests from the nudists and their supporters. They assert that the ban is a “matter of public health, safety and the general welfare of all residents.” The protestors assert that the citywide ban is unnecessary and undermines San Francisco values such as tolerance and “appreciation for the offbeat.” They also argue that it will draw police attention away from bigger issues.

The ban would require anyone in public to wear clothing below the waist, and was introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the largely gay Castro District. Wiener introduced the proposed legislation after many constituents complained about the groups of naked men who gather in one of the neighborhoods small plaza’s and who sometimes walk the streets naked.

If the proposed legislation becomes law, a first offense is punishable by a maximum penalty of a $100 fine. However, prosecutors would have the authority to charge a third violation as a state misdemeanor with punishment not to exceed a $500 fine and up to a year in jail.

Nude activists protesting the new legislation at San Francisco City hall

Feature Photo: Monica’s Dad/Flickr

Photo: Eric Steuer/Flickr

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    With greater freedom comes greater responsibility. If someone has the freedom to be publicly nude from the waist down, then there should be rules ensuring that the person takes a little extra responsibility when doing so. People who are nude in public have an extra obligation to practice good hygiene.

    For example, everyone should be held responsible for the public impact of the emissions from their bodily apertures. No one should be allowed to sit bare-assed on the city bus. I don’t want to sit on someone else’s skidmarks. So, if you’re nude from the waist down and you’re going to sit on a public seat in a public area, you’re responsible for providing some sort of barrier between the seat and your crack(s). Bring a seat cushion, use your coat, lay down a yoga mat, sit on a poster of your favorite (or least favorite) celebrity, whatever keeps your effluvia off the seat that other people have to use after you. In San Francisco you have to pick up after your dog and you have to limit your car’s emissions, so why not extend that to your own emissions?

    Wearing clothes over your lower torso is not just about covering body parts so other people can’t see them. It also has public sanitation benefits. That’s what I’d be most concerned about. I don’t have a problem with the visual issues of nudity, nor with people walking down the sidewalk nude. My concern is more about when they sit down. It’s pretty hard to gross me out, and I’m nowhere close to being a germaphobe, but I can’t help thinking about cholera, dysentery, etc.

    And, I’d want to make sure that private businesses still have the right to demand that their customers wear some clothes. Restaurants should be allowed to deny service to people nude from the waist down, and clothing stores should not let you try on pants or swimsuits without underwear. If your establishment allows clothing optional customers, it would be great to hang a sign that says so, just to give a little warning.

    • wellokaythen says:

      P.S. I can respect the nudist point of view, but I’d have even more respect if they showed total commitment — barefoot, no hats, no watches, no sunglasses. Show me that you totally own it, man.

  2. Heh. Doesn’t affect me, but I love seeing stories like this. Go for it, activists! Keep America great with a thousand different beliefs.

  3. whohoo,

    I wanna run naked at bay 2 breakers….

  4. wellokaythen says:

    It’s shaky legal ground to say that the public nudity endangers health and safety and then grant special dispensation for certain parades. Why is Gay Pride Day nudity harmless but the other 364 days of the year nudity is harmful?

    But, it sounds like nudists have won a partial victory. You don’t have to wear clothes from the waist up. I think if you’re required to wear clothing from the waist down you’ll see some acrobatic nudists walking on their hands or being held upside down with skirts over their heads.

Speak Your Mind