By Ronald C. Tobin
During the month of December 1998, the City Council of Phoenix struck a blow for fascism and Puritanism by passing new ordinances further restricting so-called adult-oriented businesses. Specifically, these new ordinances call for club entertainers (strippers and erotic dancers) to be licensed and undergo police background checks, an end to dancing in private rooms (lap dancing), and force the closure of the city's six social clubs (places where consensual sex does indeed take place). The usual range of excuses were brought up for this clearly punitive action against an 'unpopular' industry - fight prostitution, drugs, save the children, control loitering, that sort of thing. Obviously, all of these clubs are suing the city to get these ordinances rescinded. Hopefully, the clubs will eventually prevail.
What is the real issue here? Does any unit of government really have the right to single out adult-oriented businesses for special regulation because they do not meet some sort of community standard? Are these businesses really some sort of public nuisance? Are those social clubs really magnets for prostitution? Frankly, I think that the bottom line here is obvious, but let's take a look, shall we?
The real issue here is social control. Apparently, the majority of the city council disapproves of adult-oriented businesses. They presume the majority of the business interests and the electorate agree with them, so they act in a heavy-handed fascistic fashion. Perhaps the city council is right in their beliefs about the attitudes of the "desirable" business community and the electorate, but this does not justify this repression. Social control is a cornerstone of modern America, which has facilitated the slow but certain erosion of freedom here. That is the real issue.
No unit of government has the right to single out any industry - much less the adult-oriented ones - for special regulations for an alleged failure to meet some sort of community standard. Any business that is not supported by a customer base will die on the vine. Governments have no right to define, much less enforce community standards. As to regulations - there should not be any. There needs to be a complete separation of Economy and State. That way, blue noses on city councils will just have to express their dislike of a business in the only acceptable way - by just not doing business with them!
The public nuisance charge against adult-oriented businesses is pure rubbish. This charge is leveled against any currently "unpopular" activity. It is a catchall. I think that governments, as presently constituted, are a public danger -  much less a mere nuisance. No adult-oriented business forces people to work for them or to patronize them. Like any other real business, people choose to be there. The whole concept of a public nuisance is so fluid that it is essentially meaningless.
Declaring the social clubs to be magnets for prostitution appears to be entirely without merit. It is likely that some prostitution activity has taken place at such a club, but then prostitution also takes place around convenience stores, bars and supermarkets. Prostitution, or lack thereof, is not a proper concern of government - it should be decriminalized! These clubs say that only consensual sex between adults takes place on their premises. Frankly, I believe them.
I am outraged by the audacity of the Phoenix city council in many ways, and I am mortified that the city of Glendale is following in their footsteps! The crackdown on the adult-oriented businesses is just the latest. I doubt that they are all that different from councils in other cities around the world -- and that is scary. The important point here is this -- just because a certain kind of business is unpopular, or you do not like a type of business, does not mean you can let a government body get away with repressing it. So long as it is non-coercive, voluntary activity, so long as said activity poses no valid threat to your person or property, then you have no right to try and get it regulated out of existence. Part of true freedom is knowing that people have the right to engage in activities that you find to be reprehensible. If you expect your rights to be respected, you must grant the same tolerance to others. All Libertarians and anarchists ought to understand this.
My message to the city councils of Glendale and Phoenix is: get off your Puritanical, hypocritical high horse and leave the adult-oriented businesses alone. If that is the best activity you can come up with, just stay home and leave us alone!
[This article originally appeared in the March/April 1999 issue of THE THOUGHT.]