Fiscal storm headed for Ashland

Unless the City Council acts quickly all Ashland residents will face increased taxes for years to come because a relatively few people believe it's important for them to appear naked in public. The few I've spoken with have a variety of political, sociological and artistic reasons to justify public nudity, not the least of which is the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution.

"How is someone's lack of clothing going to cost us money?" you may well ask. Here's how:

A political/social/artistic event is scheduled for Ashland later this year. It is to be called "Buns Not Bombs" and will include public nudity. It is expected to violate Ashland's public nudity law. The police have said they will have no choice other than to enforce the law and arrest anyone who violates it.

That's when it starts costing money. Hundreds of personnel hours will be diverted from normal duties and expended arresting, booking, incarcerating, trying and convicting or acquitting everyone who is arrested. Fines collected from those who are convicted will not cover all the costs incurred. The shortfall will be made up by the taxpayers, Ashland residents, and that's not all.

The ACLU has been watching this situation very carefully and is preparing to file a lawsuit against Ashland if it determines that anyone's First Amendment rights were violated. Such a lawsuit could take years to resolve and will cost Ashland residents hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

Isn't there some way to avoid all this without infringing anyone's right of expression or outraging anyone else's sense of morality? Of course there is. It just takes some courage, some patience and a lot of tolerance.

The question is not whether the human body is sacred or profane or whether nudity is moral or immoral; those are questions without answers. The question is: "How can we get along together?" We can't expect other people to respect our opinions if we don't respect theirs.

The essence of a good compromise is that no one is happy with it. Everyone has to give up something he/she wants.

The current law could be amended or replaced to require that an event on public property such as "Buns Not Bombs" obtain a permit. The organizers could be required to alert the public through media public service announcements that there would be nudity at the event and could also be required to provide signs at the event alerting the public that nudity was occurring on the premises. (If you don't want to see naked humans, go somewhere else.)

In other circumstances, nudity on or within sight of a public thoroughfare or other public property could be prohibited. Public nudity is such an uncommon occurrence that it distracts drivers and pedestrians alike, thereby increasing the likelihood of traffic accidents and damage and injury to property and people.

We all enjoy the right of free speech, but that does not give us license to shout "bomb!" in an airport. We don't have the right to cause a public disturbance just because we can. We are responsible for the results of our actions, particularly when they are foreseeable. That way, we respect each other's rights.

With a good compromise, everyone gives up something he/she holds dear and retains something equally dear. Most importantly, we don't want to spend a lot of time and money arguing about a matter of opinion when the real issue is public safety.

Joe Hudgins is a retired instructor. He's lived in Jackson County for the past 20 years, more than half of them in Ashland.

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