Ashland's best bet: Back off a nudity ban

What do the naked people wandering Ashland reveal — besides the obvious, of course? That there's good reason Oregon law allows nudity as long as it's not sexual.

First Ashland decided it would ban nudity — described as the display of genitals — in parks and downtown. Then, after a naked man walked near a school this year, talk began that it might make sense to ban it there, too. The City Council took up the debate this week, wondering whether the law could be expanded and whether it might be more legally justifiable to drop it altogether.

We're for dropping limits on the altogether altogether.

Let's be clear: Nudity where everyone can see it is troubling to some folks. And we tend to think that people who insist on being nude where it will attract attention are showing at least a lack of respect for those around them.

But state law mostly avoids this subject because nudity is like a lot of potentially protected expressions: tough to regulate in any way that will stand up in court.

If Ashland decides to leave any anti-nudity law on the books, certainly school zones should be included. But how do you prevent a quick trip down the proverbial slippery slope? You regulate it in parks and downtown because lots of people are there, and visitors are important to Ashland. You add areas near schools because kids are there, and they might be upset by a naked person. What about the routes kids walk to schools? Kids will be there, too. Children are, in fact, all over Ashland, as are people who would be put off by the sight of a naked body suddenly parked on the sidewalk in front of them. And if you're going to ban naked people, isn't there something else worth banning, too?

Instead of losing its footing on that slope, Ashland is better off following the lead of communities around Oregon that deal with the issue by avoiding it. Most municipalities handle periodic problems with nudity with disorderly conduct laws — the same rules that cover people who are drunk in public or shout obscenities from the street corner.

If nudity becomes a problem, it's covered by a law.

That wouldn't apply to the periodic stroller-in-the-buff who shows up on an Ashland street, but really, is that person a significant threat just because he or she is naked?

Of three nude people in Ashland who have made the news in the last couple years, only a woman who became known as the "naked lady" seemed bent on stirring up the community. And the more rules people around her attempted to impose, the more public she became.

Tony Cooper, the California man who revived concerns this summer when he wandered nude near a school, on the other hand, later said he didn't know he was near a school and would be more careful if he returned to town.

Ashland had no law to deal with him. And it didn't matter.

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