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Published: Friday, 11/16/2007

Battle over Ohio s new strip club law headed to court today


CLEVELAND A new state law that halts nude dancing in strip clubs after midnight is hurting business, club owners argue.

Their attorneys were set to convince a federal judge Friday that the law is also unconstitutional.

The statewide crackdown on sexually oriented businesses, pushed by a conservative Christian group and adopted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in May, was allowed to become law by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland without his signature.

Strip club owners sued after the law took effect this fall.

Other restrictions include a ban on strippers touching patrons or each other. Clubs whose liquor licenses allow them to stay open after midnight may continue to do so, but nude dancing after that hour is not allowed. The law also prohibits adult bookstores and theaters from remaining open between midnight and 6 a.m.

The First Amendment protects unpopular speech, just as it does popular speech, said Sandy Theis, a spokeswoman for the Buckeye Association of Club Executives, a trade group representing strip clubs that filed the lawsuit along with 11 sexually oriented businesses across the state.

The lawsuit, which names nearly 70 county prosecutors and local officials whose job it is to enforce the law, seeks a temporary restraining order or a permanent injunction to block enforcement of the new restrictions.

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. was prepared to continue Friday s hearing to Monday if necessary.

The lawsuit is the latest attempt by strip club owners to block the law. Opponents failed last month to gather enough signatures to force a referendum asking voters to overturn it.

Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati-based group that pushed for the law, argues that the restrictions will reduce crimes such as prostitution and illegal drug use and decrease blight in neighborhoods where strip clubs operate.

The group also spearheaded the 2004 amendment that bans gay marriages in Ohio.

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