Erznoznik, manager of a drive-in theater, was charged with violating a city ordinance prohibiting the showing of films that contained nudity at drive-in theaters where the screen could be viewed from a public street or place. A separate hearing was held to determine whether the ordinance was constitutionally valid.
The Court ruled that the ordinance was invalid on its face:
- First, where the city had contended the ordinance was justified because it protected its citizens against unwilling exposure to offensive material, the court found that since the ordinance discriminated among movies solely on the basis of nudity, but not all offensive content, it could not be justified. Such selective restrictions have been upheld only when:
- the speaker intrudes into the privacy of the home,
- or the degree of captivity makes it impractical for the unwilling viewer or auditor to avoid exposure.
- Second, the ordinance could not be justified as a method to protect minors. The city ordinance was not limited to sexually explicit nudity or limited in any other way. Rather, it sweepingly forbade the display of all films containing any nudity, regardless of context or pervasiveness. Strict scrutiny requires that a law restricting otherwise protected speech be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest in order to be valid under the First Amendment. Therefore, the restriction was overbroad.
- Third, the ordinance could not be justified as a traffic ordinance because it was under-inclusive. It did not include any aspect of a film other than nudity that may distract a driver.
In summary, the Court noted that it will find an ordinance facially invalid only (1) if it cannot be interpreted in a narrow way; and (2) when its deterrent effect on speech is real and substantial. The city had not offered any narrow interpretation or justification, and the ordinance had had a widespread effect on what all drive-in movie owners and managers could exhibit. Thus, the required conditions were not met and the court concluded that the ordinance was facially invalid.
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