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The First Amendment Encyclopedia

Articles, news and insights about free expression in America

Case Categories: Adult Businesses and Nude Dancing

Adult entertainment establishments are subject to an array of zoning and licensing requirements. A typical regulation provides that adult businesses cannot be within 500 feet of a church, school, playground, or another adult-oriented business. Others dictate the distance between patrons and performers, limit the hours of operation, or prohibit totally nude dancing.

The Supreme Court first recognized “the existence of First Amendment freedom of expression rights in the adult entertainment context” in 1972.

A few years later in 1976, the Court introduced the secondary effects doctrine in its decision in Young v. American Mini Theatres (1976). The city of Detroit had adopted an anti–skid row ordinance preventing adult businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of any two existing adult businesses or within 500 feet of any residential area. The theater that challenged the law contended that the zoning ordinance was a content-based law that targeted businesses because officials did not like the expressive messages conveyed by the adult material displayed.

The Court reasoned that the law was not passed to silence offensive expression but to prevent the deterioration of neighborhoods.

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