- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

Those "emanations" from constitutional "penumbras" are indeed powerful things. When the Warren Supreme Court began the now-common practice of distorting the meaning of language and the plain intent the Constitution, we should have foreseen that eventually lap dancing would one day find succor as a protected form of free expression. Lap dancing when a naked or nearly naked woman wiggles around on the lap of a fully dressed male customer is merely a form of artistic expression and thus protected by the First Amendment. Or so argues a local academic.

As reported by this newspaper's Jabeen Bhatti, three Prince George's County men who own an adult club the Showcase Theater are basing their defense against charges of violating the county's nudity laws on the novel idea that such a performance is "art" and therefore constitutionally protected. This theory was first put forward by University of Maryland Anthropology Professor Judith Hanna, who is expected to testify at the men's Feb. 14 trial. "Nude dancing and lap dancing are a form of artistic expression," says Mrs. Hanna. It "falls within the range of criteria that defines dance: It is purposeful, rhythmic and has aesthetic value. Exotic dance is the theatrical art of fantasy," she adds, comparing the lap dance to the performances given in such Broadway musicals as "Cats" and "Oh! Calcutta!"

There are actually lots of acts that might fall under Mrs. Hanna's description which yet bear no relationship to the First Amendment and which don't belong in a family newspaper either. The real question is whether residents of a community can lawfully and reasonably seek to control what goes on in their neighborhoods. The residents of the Beltsville neighborhood where the Showcase Theater is located don't want this kind of "free expression" around their kids. It attracts a certain element. It runs down home values. Gives the area a certain reputation.

Five hundred local residents petitioned county officials to close establishments, such as adult book stores and clubs like the Showcase Theater, that are close to residential neighborhoods (as is the case in this instance). A 1997 law limits adult book stores and the like to industrial zones at least 1,000 feet away from homes, schools, churches and parks. "The prosecution of these cases is of critical importance to the citizens of this county," said Maryland State's Attorney Jack Johnson. "These clubs are a blight on the county." Well, it's hard to argue with that.

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