An Ashland City Council majority voted Tuesday night to adopt a citywide ban on nudity despite an American Civil Liberties Union threat to sue over the ban.
Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Russ Silbiger, David Chapman and Kate Jackson voted for the city-wide ban, while Councilors Eric Navickas and Carol Voisin voted against the move.
Ashland already bans the display of genitals downtown and in parks.
On Thursday, Mayor John Stromberg and the City Council received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon asking the council to reconsider its plan to adopt a citywide ban on nudity.
ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque wrote that the "ACLU believes the proposed ordinance is unconstitutional and would be overturned by the courts. We urge you to reject it."
Fidanque said the citywide nudity ban would violate the Oregon Constitution's protections for free expression.
On Tuesday night, Ashland resident and ACLU member Ralph Temple said he had been authorized to say that if the council adopted the citywide ban, the ACLU is likely to take legal action.
"Don't spend the taxpayers money uselessly on litigation," he urged councilors.
However, in voting for the citywide ban, Lemhouse said councilors shouldn't let themselves be threatened by the ACLU.
"I don't think we should let any group dictate what our policies are through threats and intimidation," he said.
But Voisin, who opposed the ban, said the ACLU was providing the council with valuable information about the legality of the ban.
"I don't see it as a threat," she said.
In a 1985 decision that still stands, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the city of Portland's ban on public nudity. But the court also ruled that public nudity can be a protected form of expression, such as when a person is protesting in the nude. Public nudity should be considered on a case-by-case basis, the court said.
City Attorney Richard Appicello tried to build in legal protections for the citywide nudity ban by attaching clauses stating that the ban was not intended to prohibit expressive activities protected by Oregon's Constitution.
In his fight against the citywide ban, Navickas was able to convince a majority of councilors to strip out much of that language.
Lemhouse accused Navickas of trying to weaken language in the nudity ban that could have helped protect the city against lawsuits and the cost of litigation.
"What you're seeing is a systematic effort to gut this to set this up for ACLU to sue us," Lemhouse warned.
Navickas said that it didn't make sense to have legal language saying freedom of expression is protected, when the new citywide ban will prohibit people from engaging in activities like protesting in the nude.
"I think this is a very sad day for the city of Ashland," Navickas said.
He said people who participate in events like a past Buns Not Bombs nude protest and a naked bike ride to protest global warming and the use of fossil fuels will now be cited.
A person who is cited by police for public nudity will be subject to a $180 fine.
The state of Oregon doesn't ban public nudity. There is a crime of indecent exposure, but that requires a sexual component such as arousal.
With its previous ban on nudity downtown and in parks, Ashland attracted out-of-state nudists and was ridiculed by Fox News for allowing public nudity.
Ashland first adopted its ban on the display of genitals downtown and in parks in 2004. Public nudity became a major issue again in 2009 after two men, one from California and one from Minnesota, walked naked near Ashland schools.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.