The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” The ACLU provides legal assistance in cases when it considers civil liberties to be at risk—and now, they’ve decided that a strip club in Providence, Rhode Island, deserves their assistance.
On December 19th, the Foxy Lady in Providence was shut down by the city about a week after an undercover police operation resulted in the arrests of three dancers on misdemeanor prostitution charges. Its adult-entertainment and liquor licenses were permanently revoked, but the club has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court and the state Department of Business Regulation. In the meantime, the club might be able to reopen as a bar only, but it must meet with the city Board of Licenses to discuss its business plan.
“The Constitution does not allow protected rights to be taken away on the whim of administrative officials,” Jared Goldstein, an ACLU volunteer attorney, declared in a written statement.
The ACLU has previously criticized the city’s decision to raid and shut down the club; now, it is filing a “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) brief on behalf of the Foxy Lady and, perhaps more importantly, on behalf of the First Amendment rights that all strip clubs enjoy.
A justice of the state Supreme Court, which handled the appeal over its adult-entertainment license, declined to give the club its adult-entertainment license back as of yet. The full court is set to meet soon and could decide whether to take up the case at all, and could also decide to grant it a stay in the meantime. A stay would give the club its licenses back and let it open up again.
The ACLU points out that exotic dancing has long been protected by the First Amendment. Because First Amendment values are at play, the club should be able to reopen while the city and the club fight in court, the ACLU argues.
The ACLU also states that the club is also “overwhelmingly likely” to win its case when the court comes down with a final decision. Other incidents of violence, or even prostitution, at city clubs have resulted in punishments less than closure, like a four-day license suspension for a stabbing inside a club and a 30-day suspension when a patron opened fire into the ceiling of a club, according to the Providence Journal.
“As these examples illustrate, the revocation of Petitioner’s right to engage in protected speech is precisely the type of arbitrary suppression of speech prohibited by the First Amendment,” the ACLU says.
Stay tuned for updates on this story.