SAN FRANCISCO — Public nudity activists prompted a hearing scheduled for Thursday in San Francisco in which a federal judge will consider blocking a new city law requiring people to wear clothing.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen has been asked to block the law from going into effect on Feb. 1 while he considers their lawsuit seeking to invalidate the ordinance.
The activists argue that the ban on public nudity violates their First Amendment freedom of speech rights because their nudity is a political statement.
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.
Attorneys representing the city counter that the ban is a matter of public health, safety and the “general welfare” of all residents.
The Board of Supervisors authorized the ban on a 6-5 vote last month after enduring several vocal and naked protests from nudists and their supporters. They argued that the citywide ban is unnecessary and would draw police officers’ attention away from bigger problems while undermining San Francisco values like tolerance and appreciation for the offbeat.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco’s largely gay Castro District, introduced the legislation after receiving constituent complaints about the naked men who gather in a small neighborhood plaza most days and sometimes walk the streets naked.
The ban requires clothing below the waist of all appearing in public.
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.