Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Nudism is terrific, and you should try it!
That's not an editorial comment, by the way. It's written there to make a point. Specifically, if local police and prosecutors wanted to follow the letter of current Arkansas law, the author of this article is, as of the moment you read that sentence, allegedly guilty of a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. The editor and publisher of Arkansas Times as well. The crime? Under Arkansas criminal statute 5-68-204, the state's 59-year-old anti-nudism law, it is illegal for any "person, club, camp, corporation, partnership, association or organization to advocate, demonstrate, or promote nudism."
Technically, we just advocated and promoted being naked with others in social situations.
While the criminal code of any state is full of antiquated and ridiculous laws, an advocate pushing for the repeal of the state's anti-nudism statute says this one is no laughing matter. The founder of the advocacy group, which operates a website urging repeal of the law at unconstitutionalarkansas.org, says the law puts the activities of nudists in Arkansas under a constant cloud of fear, with the clause prohibiting people from advocating for or promoting nudism making people reluctant to even speak out for the repeal of the law, which he calls blatantly unconstitutional on multiple points.
The state's anti-nudism statute was written following a January 1957 arrest at a nudist camp called Wildwood Lodge, located near Forrest City. The caretaker of the lodge was taken into custody and charged with indecent exposure. The charge was later withdrawn after officers testified they'd witnessed no "indecency" at the location. The caretaker paid only a $100 fine for "possessing obscene literature." The anti-nudism law was passed by the legislature the following month.
Under the law, naked people are forbidden from congregating or gathering with anyone "as a form of social practice," with the exception of a doctor, nurse or their legally-wedded spouse." In addition to prohibiting individuals from advocating, practicing or promoting nudism, the law also makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to "rent, lease, or otherwise permit his or her land, premises or buildings" to be used to advocate, demonstrate or promote nudism.
Dale is the founder of Unconstitutional Arkansas. He asked us not to use his last name, because he said his career might be jeopardized if he came out in support of nudism, but also because he worries about being prosecuted under the law if he's seen as advocating nudism. Dale said he'd been working toward getting the law repealed for three years, including paying to have two billboards at the intersection of Highway 107 and Highway 89 near Jacksonville put up to direct people to the Unconstitutional Arkansas website. Dale said he's been involved in nudism for over 30 years, and says it appeals to most people because being naked is more comfortable than wearing clothes. He said public suspicion that nudism is about sexual gratification or exhibitionism are rooted in society's body shame issues.
"It goes back to the assumption that, if you're nude, you're either taking a shower or you're having sex," he said. "In the world of naturism, that's just not an accurate assumption. You can ride a bike, you can garden, you can play volleyball, you can go swimming, you can do any normal, everyday thing [while] not wearing clothes."
Dale said he has visited nudist or "naturist" resorts overseas and in more than 10 states, including events in Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Most of the resorts he visited, he said, were "family friendly" and allowed parents and children to socialize naked together. He said that, to his knowledge, Arkansas is the only state that has a law specifically criminalizing the practice of nudism.
"The majority of states have laws against nudity," he said, "but it's public nudity. It's indecent-exposure type laws. A lot of those are very poorly written and, as a result, they have the unintended consequence of criminalizing naturism. They're written with the intention of controlling public nudity, but they're written in a way that can be interpreted to affect people who really aren't doing anything wrong."
Dale said that his attempts to rally other Arkansas nudists to the cause of repealing the law have been mostly unsuccessful because people are too afraid of coming out, or because they fear breaking the law and facing fines or jail time simply by speaking out against it. While he said the law has never been enforced as far as he knows, it's still a Sword of Damocles. He feels it would be found unconstitutional if it was ever tested in court, but doesn't want to be the test case. On his website, he carefully avoids anything that could be seen as advocating or promoting nudism, instead only pointing out how the law runs contrary to the U.S. Constitution.
"Some have offered [to help]," he said, "and then I ask them to do something, and nothing happens. But, again, if somebody gets involved in this, they put themselves in jeopardy. If the courts interpret this a certain way, then there goes their money. You're trying to support a family and all of a sudden, you're in jail because you expressed an opinion."
Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson was unaware of the law banning nudism in the state until contacted for comment by Arkansas Times. He called the law crazy, stupid and vague, and said the guarantee of freedom of speech would preclude his office from ever prosecuting someone for advocating or promoting nudism, even if they wanted to waste time doing so.
"I think it would be hard to prosecute someone for saying 'nudism is great,' as promoting nudism," he said. "To me, this is a pretty vague statute. What does 'congregating' mean? More importantly, what does 'as a form of social practice' mean? I'm not sure."
As to whether his office would prosecute someone arrested for being nude with others in the privacy of their home or secluded property, Johnson said that he couldn't imagine a set of circumstances where they would charge someone under the law unless there was "some social harm" from the gathering.
"To me, it's kind of a crazy statute, written to prohibit a wide spectrum of accepted adult activity," he said. "I guess we would have to wait and see exactly what the social harm was and determine if it did, in fact, violate not just the statute but the spirit of the statute."
Johnson did say, however, that if children were present at a nudist gathering in Pulaski County, the chances that adults in attendance might be charged would go up "without question." He added, however, that the determination of whether or not charges would be brought would be based on "a fact-driven decision as to whether the purpose was for sexual gratification and whether the children were being exploited in any way."
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