If you only ever listen to talking heads on cable news, or go out of your way to never exit your political tribe’s echo chamber, you would think we are on the brink of Armageddon. In spite of the fact that Americans today are more prosperous, safe, and free than any other people at any other time in the history of humanity, we are constantly assured that we are on the brink of totalitarian dystopia.
And stories slip through from time to time which on their face might look like another log on the fire of our doom but in reality are reminders that Americans really are living our best lives. This week, that story involved naked people.
Lake Tahoe has a few “clothing optional” beaches, which have been known to locals for decades. There are signs posted warning casual beachgoers who may not realize what they’re wandering in to. But now, after all these years, we’re about to have a “crackdown.” Why? Not because of complaints from good, God-fearing families who don’t want their children exposed to the genitalia of strangers (which would be a fair complaint). No, it’s because one or two nude bathers allegedly waggled one or more body parts at patrolling police officers, and said officers felt offended. They then went to a different beach and threatened people who had not done the waggling with citation or arrest for a “sex crime.”
It is, in fact, illegal to expose your “person” in a public place. It’s even illegal to do it if no one can see you presently but could see you if they wandered by that public place, as the Supreme Court determined years back in a case involving sex acts in Carson City park bathrooms. The law does not sanction nude beaches in Nevada, at least not in the Nevada Revised Statutes.
But sometimes a law which is legitimate on its face becomes illegitimate because of the way it’s enforced. If there is proof that a law is being selectively enforced in order to discriminate against people of a particular race, or to stifle free expression protected by the First Amendment, it could actually be found to be unconstitutional.
It’s hard to imagine a better example of this than suddenly enforcing public decency laws on a beach where nudity was known about and tolerated for decades, with said sudden suppression coming about only because an agent of the government didn’t like someone’s expressive conduct. (Non-violently expressing disdain for authority figures in creative ways is about as American as it gets.) It will be helpful in any future litigation that law enforcement officers admitted to improper motives for their “crackdown” in an interview with local news media.
The reason this story should make us all happy is that it shows things are actually pretty darn good in the U.S.A. (or at least in Northern Nevada) in 2019. Because if we have time to be worked up over a couple of skinny-dippers in secluded little bays that heretofore haven’t bothered anyone in years, we’ve officially solved all the rest of our problems. At the very least, we should acknowledge that we have the luxury of extra time to waste on such trivialities.
Societies on the brink of actual dystopia (which, coincidentally, are all in the late stages of socialism) have to use their police to prevent people from unfairly cutting in the bread lines instead of going out of their way searching for problems to “solve.” It calls to mind the sometimes ridiculous law enforcement efforts at Burning Man by the feds.
There is a time and place for most things, including letting it all hang out. Some legislator should introduce a bill next session to allow for legal clothing optional beaches in these limited, secluded places. America has a long tradition of engaging in clothing optional time in the water, and Lake Tahoe is big enough for the prudes and the nudes to peacefully co-exist.
In the meantime, it’s good to remember that if we’re really worried about this issue, we have it pretty darn good. Nevada has plenty of real problems to address, to be sure, but it’s nice to know that with a little better prioritization and leadership all around, it will only get better from here.
Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at [email protected]