Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. (90-26), 501 U.S. 560 (1991)
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No. 90-26

[June 21, 1991]

Justice Scalia, concurring in the judgment.

I agree that the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be reversed. In my view, however, the challenged regulation must be upheld, not because it survives some lower level of First-Amendment scrutiny, but because, as a general law regulating conduct and not specifically directed at expression, it is not subject to First-Amendment scrutiny at all.


Indiana's public indecency statute provides:

"(a) A person who knowingly or intentionally, in a public place:

"(1) engages in sexual intercourse;

"(2) engages in deviate sexual conduct;

"(3) appears in a state of nudity; or

"(4) fondles the genitals of himself or another person;

commits public indecency, a Class A misdemeanor.

"(b) `Nudity' means the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple, or the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state." Ind. Code 35-45-4-1 (1988).

On its face, this law is not directed at expression in particular. As Judge Easterbrook put it in his dissent below: "Indiana does not regulate dancing. It regulates public nudity. . . . Almost the entire domain of Indiana's statute is unrelated to expression, unless we view nude beaches and topless hot dog vendors as speech." Miller v. Civil City of South Bend, 904 F. 2d 1081, 1120 (CA7 1990) (Easterbrook, J., dissenting). The intent to convey a "message of eroticism" (or any other message) is not a necessary element of the statutory offense of public indecency; nor does one commit that statutory offense by conveying the most explicit "message of eroticism," so long as he does not commit any of the four specified acts in the process. [n.1]

Indiana's statute is in the line of a long tradition of laws against public nudity, which have never been thought to run afoul of traditional understanding of "the freedom of speech." Public indecency — including public nudity — has long been an offense at common law. See 50 Am. Jur. 2d 449, 472-474 (1970); 93 A. L. R. 996, 997-998 (1934); Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507, 515 (1948). Indiana's first public nudity statute, Rev. Laws of Indiana, ch. 26, 60 (1831), predated by many years the appearance of nude barroom dancing. It was general in scope, directed at all public nudity, and not just at public nude expression; and all succeeding statutes, down to the present one, have been the same. Were it the case that Indiana in practice targeted only expressive nudity, while turning a blind eye to nude beaches and unclothed purveyors of hot dogs and machine tools, see Miller, 904 F. 2d, at 1120, 1121, it might be said that what posed as a regulation of conduct in general was in reality a regulation of only communicative conduct. Respondents have adduced no evidence of that. Indiana officials have brought many public indecency prosecutions for activities having no communicative element. See Bond v. State, 515 N. E. 2d 856, 857 (Ind. 1987); In re Levinson, 444 N. E. 2d 1175, 1176 (Ind. 1983); Preston v. State, 259 Ind. 353, 354-355, 287 N. E. 2d 347, 348 (1972); Thomas v. State, 238 Ind. 658, 569-660, 154 N. E. 2d 503, 504-505 (1958); Blanton v. State, 533 N. E. 2d 190, 191 (Ind. App. 1989); Sweeney v. State, 486 N. E. 2d 651, 652 (Ind. App. 1985); Thompson v. State, 482 N. E. 2d 1372, 1373-1374 (Ind. App. 1985); Adims v. State, 461 N. E. 2d 740, 741-742 (Ind. App. 1984); State v. Elliott, 435 N. E. 2d 302, 304 (Ind. App. 1982); Lasko v. State, 409 N. E. 2d 1124, 1126 (Ind. App. 1980). [n.2]

The dissent confidently asserts, post, at 4, that the purpose of restricting nudity in public places in general is to protect nonconsenting parties from offense; and argues that since only consenting, admission-paying patrons see respondents dance, that purpose cannot apply and the only remaining purpose must relate to the communicative elements of the performance. Perhaps the dissenters believe that "offense to others" ought to be the only reason for restricting nudity in public places generally, but there is no

not-injure-someone-else" beau ideal — much less for thinking that it was written into the Constitution. The purpose of Indiana's nudity law would be violated, I think, if 60,000 fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosierdome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an of fended innocent in the crowd. Our society prohibits, and all human societies have prohibited, certain activities not because they harm others but because they are considered, in the traditional phrase, "contra bonos mores," i. e., immoral. In American society, such prohibitions have included, for example, sadomasochism, cockfighting, bestiality, suicide, drug use, prostitution, and sodomy. While there may be great diversity of view on whether various of these prohibitions should exist (though I have found few ready to abandon, in principle, all of them) there is no doubt that, absent specific constitutional protection for the conduct involved, the Constitution does not prohibit them simply because they regulate "morality." See Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 196 (1986) (upholding prohibition of private homosexual sodomy enacted solely on "the presumed belief of a majority of the electorate in [the jurisdiction] that homosexual sodomy is immoral and unacceptable"). See also Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 68, n. 15 (1973); Dronenburg v. Zech, 239 U. S. App. D. C. 229, 238, and n. 6, 741 F. 2d 1388, 1397, and n. 6 (1984) (opinion of Bork, J.). The purpose of the Indiana statute, as both its text and the manner of its enforcement demonstrate, is to enforce the traditional moral belief that people should not expose their private parts indiscriminately, regardless of whether those who see them are disedified. Since that is so, the dissent has no basis for positing that, where only thoroughly edified adults are present, the purpose must be repression of communication. [n.3]


Since the Indiana regulation is a general law not specifically targeted at expressive conduct, its application to such conduct does not in my view implicate the First Amendment. The First Amendment explicitly protects "the freedom of speech [and] of the press" — oral and written speech — not "expressive conduct." When any law restricts speech, even for a purpose that has nothing to do with the suppression of communication (for instance, to reduce noise, see Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558, 561 (1948), to regulate election campaigns, see Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 16 (1976), or to prevent littering, see Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 163 (1939)), we insist that it meet the high, First-Amendment standard of justification. But virtually every law restricts conduct, and virtually any prohibited conduct can be performed for an expressive purpose — if only expressive of the fact that the actor disagrees with the prohibition. See, e. g., Florida Free Beaches, Inc. v. Miami, 734 F. 2d 608, 609 (1984) (nude sunbathers challenging public indecency law claimed their "message" was that nudity is not indecent). It cannot reasonably be demanded, therefore, that every restriction of expression incidentally produced by a general law regulating conduct pass normal First-Amendment scrutiny, or even — as some of our cases have suggested, see e. g., United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 377 (1968) — that it be justified by an "important or substantial" government interest. Nor do our holdings require such justification: we have never invalidated the application of a general law simply because the conduct that it reached was being engaged in for expressive purposes and the government could not demonstrate a sufficiently important state interest.

"The government generally has a freer hand in restricting expressive conduct than it has in restricting the written or spoken word. It may not, however, proscribe particular conduct because it has expressive elements. What might be termed the more generalized guarantee of freedom of expression makes the communicative nature of conduct an inadequate basis for singling out that conduct for proscription." 491 U. S., at 406. (internal quotations and citations omitted; emphasis in original).

All our holdings (though admittedly not some of our discussion) support the conclusion that "the only First Amendment analysis applicable to laws that do not directly or indirectly impede speech is the threshold inquiry of whether the purpose of the law is to suppress communication. If not, that is the end of the matter so far as First Amendment guarantees are concerned; if so, the court then proceeds to determine whether there is substantial justification for the proscription." Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Watt, 227 U. S. App. D. C. 19, 55-56, 703 F. 2d 586, 622-623 (1983) (en banc) (Scalia, J., dissenting), (footnote omitted; emphasis omitted), rev'd Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288 (1984). Such a regime ensures that the government does not act to suppress communication, without requiring that all conduct-restricting regulation (which means in effect all regulation) survive an enhanced level of scrutiny.

We have explicitly adopted such a regime in another First Amendment context: that of Free Exercise. In Employment Division, Oregon Dept. of Human Resources v. Smith, 494 U. S. — (1990), we held that general laws not specifically targeted at religious practices did not require heightened First Amendment scrutiny even though they diminished some people's ability to practice their religion. "The government's ability to enforce generally applicable prohibitions of socially harmful conduct, like its ability to carry out other aspects of public policy, `cannot depend on measuring the effects of a governmental action on a religious objector's spiritual development.' " Id., at — [110 S. Ct., at 1603], quoting Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Assn., 485 U.S. 439, 451 (1988); see also Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940) (Frank furter, J.) ("Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs."). There is even greater reason to apply this approach to the regulation of expressive conduct. Relatively few can plausibly assert that their illegal conduct is being engaged in for religious reasons; but almost anyone can violate almost any law as a means of expression. In the one case, as in the other, if the law is not directed against the protected value (religion or expression) the law must be obeyed.


While I do not think the plurality's conclusions differ greatly from my own, I cannot entirely endorse its reasoning. The plurality purports to apply to this general law, insofar as it regulates this allegedly expressive conduct, an intermediate level of First Amendment scrutiny: the government interest in the regulation must be " `important or substantial,' " ante, at 6, quoting O'Brien, 391 U. S., at 377. As I have indicated, I do not believe such a heightened standard exists. I think we should avoid wherever possible, moreover, a method of analysis that requires judicial assessment of the "importance" of government interests — and especially of government interests in various aspects of morality.

Neither of the cases that the plurality cites to support the "importance" of the State's interest here, see ante, at 7-8, is in point. Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U. S., at 61 and Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S., at 196, did uphold laws prohibiting private conduct based on concerns of decency and morality; but neither opinion held that those concerns were particularly "important" or "substantial," or amounted to anything more than a rational basis for regulation. Slaton involved an exhibition which, since it was obscene and at least to some extent public, was unprotected by the First Amendment, see Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957); the State's prohibition could therefore be invalidated only if it had no rational basis. We found that the State's "right . . . to maintain a decent society" provided a "legitimate" basis for regulation — even as to obscene material viewed by consenting adults. 413 U. S., at 59-60. In Bowers, we held that since homosexual behavior is not a fundamental right, a Georgia law prohibiting private homosexual intercourse needed only a rational basis in order to comply with the Due Process Clause. Moral opposition to homosexuality, we said, provided that rational basis. 478 U. S., at 196. I would uphold the Indiana statute on precisely the same ground: moral opposition to nudity supplies a rational basis for its prohibition, and since the First Amendment has no application to this case no more than that is needed.

* * *

Indiana may constitutionally enforce its prohibition of public nudity even against those who choose to use public nudity as a means of communication. The State is regulating conduct, not expression, and those who choose to employ conduct as a means of expression must make sure that the conduct they select is not generally forbidden. For these reasons, I agree that the judgment should be reversed.


1 Respondents assert that the statute cannot be characterized as a gen- eral regulation of conduct, unrelated to suppression of expression, because one defense put forward in oral argument below by the attorney general referred to the "message of eroticism" conveyed by respondents. But that argument seemed to go to whether the statute could constitutionally be ap- plied to the present performances, rather than to what was the purpose of the legislation. Moreover, the State's argument below was in the alterna- tive: (1) that the statute does not implicate the First Amendment because it is a neutral rule not directed at expression, and (2) that the statute in any event survives First Amendment scrutiny because of the State's interest in suppressing nude barroom dancing. The second argument can be claimed to contradict the first (though I think it does not); but it certainly does not waive or abandon it. In any case, the clear purpose shown by both the text and historical use of the statute cannot be refuted by a litigating state- ment in a single case.

2 Respondents also contend that the statute, as interpreted, is not con- tent-neutral in the expressive conduct to which it applies, since it alleg- edly does not apply to nudity in theatrical productions. See State v. Bay singer, 272 Ind. 236, 247, 397 N. E. 2d. 580, 587 (1979). I am not sure that theater versus non-theater represents a distinction based on content rather than format, but assuming that it does the argument nonetheless fails for the reason the plurality describes, ante, at 2-3, n. 1.

3 The dissent, post, at 3-4, 9, also misunderstands what is meant by the term "general law." I do not mean that the law restricts the targeted con- duct in all places at all times. A law is "general" for the present purposes if it regulates conduct without regard to whether that conduct is expres- sive. Concededly, Indiana bans nudity in public places, but not within the privacy of the home. (That is not surprising, since the common law of- fense, and the traditional moral prohibition, runs against public nudity, not against all nudity. E. g., 50 Am. Jur. 2d, at 472-474.) But that confirms, rather than refutes, the general nature of the law: one may not go nude in public, whether or not one intends thereby to convey a message, and simi- larly one may go nude in private, again whether or not that nudity is expressive.