Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Sexy Signs Stir Sensitive Citizens

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By CAITLIN COSTELLO
Capital News Service
Oct. 2, 2009

LANSING—Residents of the northwest side of Detroit are upset about the scantily clad woman portrayed on a billboard in their neighborhood.

People who live near Detroit’s 8 Mile Road might be able to fight such depictions with new legislation, said Mary Little, former president of the neighborhood’s community council. The offending sign is at a Penthouse Gentlemen Club.

“We are fighting to keep our community safe,” said Little. “Our neighborhood is turning into a Las Vegas strip and we don’t want it invaded by pictures of women with their breasts hanging out.”

Bills have been introduced by Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, that would outlaw pictures on adult entertainment advertisements. Only the business name, type, location and hours of operation could be on such signs. Hunter represents Little’s neighborhood.

Two bills would regulate the advertising; one for advertisements on highways and the other for non-highway locations.

The bills would apply to adult clubs, bookstores, theaters, bars and any other adult entertainment businesses.

Opponents, like Bradley Shafer, a lawyer for the Association of Club Executives, criticize the legislation as unconstitutional.

“The bill is a blatant violation of First Amendment rights,” Shafer said.

The legislation is also unconstitutional, because it would include existing signs, not just future signs, he said.

“The state is usurping the local function of government” if it passes the bills, said Shafer.

However, Hunter’s chief of staff, Callie Collins, said the bills wouldn’t take away businesses’ right to advertise, so they do not restrict First Amendment rights.

A co-sponsor, Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, said, “This is a free country so we don’t censor people, but we do have certain standards. I think a business can get their point across without using graphic, sexual images.”

Such images could promote domestic violence and negative self-image for women because they can’t live up to these artificial depictions of beauty, he said.

Wayne State University law Professor Jon Weinberg, said sign restrictions are legal only if they promote a public interest without going too far.

And Hunter’s bills go too far because the public can just look away to avoid images.

But, Little, the neighborhood leader, said, “We have rights, too, the right not to wake up to barely dressed women and condom-lined streets.”

A man who answered the phone at Penthouse Gentlemen Club refused to comment on the legislation, and did not identify himself.

The highway bill is in the Senate Committee on Transportation and the non-highway bill is awaiting full Senate action.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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