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Sex and Politics

The ‘Naked Truth’ on adult entertainment Theocrats eager to legislate morality

My first lessons about the Christian assault on exotic dance began in 1995 when I was asked to be an expert witness in Seattle in a First Amendment court case related to exotic dance. They wanted me to apply the same approach that I used when I studied dance in African villages and cities and U.S. schools and concert theaters. Being a strong free speech advocate, and excited to apply my knowledge to a world I did not know, I agreed.

I had to break through “Washington Together Against Pornography!” demonstrators to begin to discover what went on inside exotic dance clubs. Men, women and children picketing the club held screaming banners of denunciation. A Christian church was behind the opposition. In the more than 100 successive cases nationwide that I conducted research for, a pastor or church group was spearheading efforts to wipe out the alleged “moral cancer” of “toxic” exotic dance. Yet it’s a form of dance, art and theater that communicates within its own aesthetic. What I keep learning frightens me and is under most people’s radar.

Legislatures and local governments respond to vocal constituents, often a “segment of the politically active Christian Right” (SPACR) that wants to eliminate adult entertainment. The implications are frightening for all of us who believe in freedom from religion.

Biblical injunctions concerning the use of the body, modesty, a male-female polarity and patriarchy are why SPACR are hostile to strip clubs. So too are beliefs about the inherent uncontrollable nature of men. Consequently, “sexual jihadists” are struggling to reorganize American life and impose their own political organization, a scripture-based theocracy. Some current legislators are members of SPACR, seeking to destroy the separation of church and state. It is irrelevant to them that their laws and proposed laws violate federal and state constitutions. Of course, some members of the Christian Right eschew political engagement and choose to engage in, e.g., fighting poverty.

The SPACR views exotic dance as perilous to the biblical patriarchal social order: The “ungodly” exotic dance clubs destroy femininity and undermine men because they draw women out of the home and into “demimonde” (a class of woman not considered respectable because of indiscreet or promiscuous behavior) employment.

Single dancers compete with married women for men’s attention and admiration, challenging their self-esteem, and with men economically, challenging their sense of masculinity. Thus the outrage when a “passive,” “modest” woman steps out of the domestic realm into the public arena where she shamelessly removes her clothing and moves her nude, or semi-nude, body for sexual fantasy, commercial purpose and economic independence. Existence of the exotic dancer signals the males’ insufficient surveillance (only the husband should see the woman’s nude body) and weakened masculinity.

Men’s uncontrollable nature is due, says Christian Right author Tim LaHaye, to their “constant production of sperm and seminal fluid.” The male sex drive is “almost volcanic in its latent ability to erupt at the slightest provocation.” Women are “candles among gunpowder” and must dress so as not to “blow up the fire of men’s lust.”

Because sexuality outside of marriage is threatening, SPACR has “prudential” lifestyle rules that interdict behaviors believed to lead a person to perdition, e.g., eliminate adult cabarets to avoid being tempted by them. The notion is that after the fall, humans were left with a powerful sinful nature, so prudent Christians must keep themselves from drifting astray.

Attack strategies

Prominent in the Christian Right is dominionism, a political religious movement that has what its leaders call a grand design to supplant our constitutional democracy with a scripture-based Christian governing elite. Political activism is considered a duty.

A website of one active Christian Right group says:“Welcome to the Citizens for Community Values of Indiana Website. Citizens for Community Values is an educational organization devoted to protecting families from the harms of the porn/sex industry in all of its forms. … We believe that there is a great culture war for the soul of our nation being waged by many kinds of sexual revolutionaries that oppose the principles governing human sexual relations established by God.”

Expansion of state control over sexuality is a key to creating a salutary environment for their children and making way for their ideal state. SPACR fights adult entertainment by harnessing an organizational network fueled by technology, money, lawyers, public relations outfits and “researchers.”

From Psalm 127, an emphasis is placed on militaristic imagery. Children become the arrows of the parents, part of their tools of war, in order to go out against the enemy. The language is filled with metaphors about the use of excessive force and violence against God’s enemies. Christians’ task is to recruit soldiers in the army of Jesus Christ. Clergy are known to speak of themselves as generals or admirals and their evangelist followers as powerful warriors.

SPACR lobbies local governments to pass adult cabaret restrictions to drive them out of business. Members of SPACR burrow into government as “holy hires” or get elected so they can legislate and adjudicate against exotic dance. Attorneys are hired to help draft and defend restrictive laws. Most prominent is Tennessee-based Scott Bergthold, likened to an old-time snake oil salesman riding the circuit. I have seen him in courtrooms everywhere reading from a hymnal of spin to defend challenged regulations he drafted to destroy the adult hospitality business. Double dipping, perhaps?

Part of the mobilization effort is an “electric church” network of preachers who appear on some 1,300 radio and TV stations and claim audiences of up to 130 million and profits of $500 million to billions. An “e-army” inundates legislators with emails for or against proposed bills. Voter guides are sent to churches, and prayer groups transform into political action committees. Anti-club combatants also engage in physical threats and assaults on property.

Opponents are well-armed with financial and communication resources. According to a 2012 report by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family brought in $104.4 million. With a budget of $14.8 million, Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council lobbies for the Christian Right agenda. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network operated with $435 million in contributions. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association has a radio empire with revenues of $18 million annually. At the top of the heap was Jerry Falwell Ministries/Liberty University/Liberty Counsel with $523 million.

Jeff Sharlet in his 2008 book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, speaks of an “invisible” association in Washington, D.C., organized around public men, conservative Republicans, would-be theocrats. The Family has operated under many guises; its Fellowship Foundation alone has an annual budget of nearly $14 million.

SPACR attempts to strip the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, corset the exotic dancer, micromanage businesses and dismantle the club industry through local and state government actions and “street” tactics (like those against abortion clinics). I could go on about this steamroller, but I think you get the idea.

Not surprisingly, some politicians, especially at election time, use cabarets as a red herring to divert attention from government failure to cope with the real problems of education, crime, health and traffic.

Playing defense

Who is trying to stop this juggernaut? Free speech advocates, consumers and involved businesses fight back to preserve the separation of church and state. The problem is an unending marathon, not a sprint.

The costs of proaction — e.g., quashing bills before they surface — are far less than going to court after a bad bill becomes an even worse law. Organizations such as the Association of Club Executives (ACE) and its statewide chapters have had some successes. Voters in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Seattle overturned restrictive city ordinances, not wanting to be known as “moral scolds.”

In Atlanta, smack in the bible belt, business trumped the religion. The International Poultry Exposition (known affectionately as Chicken Pluckers of America), which is the city’s largest convention, told the city that if it interfered with exotic dance clubs, they would move the convention.

The industry is under the worst unrelenting attack in its history, with draconian regulations implemented or being considered in several states. Kansas, Kentucky, Alaska, Alabama, Nevada, Iowa and Georgia are expected to introduce their own Community Defense Acts, as they are known. A glut of new “sin taxes” is likely to follow.

The implications are frightening for all of us who believe in freedom from religion in an American democracy. This campaign is a lens through which to view a broader effort of a minority to impose its views and supplant the Constitution with a bible-based theocracy.

Why should we care about a racy form of entertainment? Professor and attorney Nadine Strossen pointed out in 1995:“Once we cede to the government the power to violate one right for one person, or group, then no right is safe for any person or group. So when we defend sexual expression, we are really making a stand not only against a specific kind of censorship … but human rights in general.”

Reprinted with permission from Freethought Today, April 2013, Page 17

Maryland FFRF member Judith Lynne Hanna has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University and is affiliate senior research scientist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland in College Park. She’s the author of eight books on dance and society, has served as an expert witness in more than 100 court cases and appeared recently on “The Colbert Report.” Her latest book is Naked Truth: Strip Clubs, Democracy and a Christian Right (University of Texas Press, 2012). Her website is judithhanna.com.