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ACLU, arts groups sue over Idaho alcohol restrictions

Civil rights activists are suing the Idaho State Police with the intent of striking down a state law prohibiting places that are licensed to serve alcohol from showing live performances that depict sexual acts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, along with several other Boise attorneys, filed the 28-page lawsuit Sept. 15 on behalf of performance artist Anne McDonald, an art gallery and a repertory theater.

“We are asking the court to strike down the statute so that Idahoans have the opportunity to enjoy the arts without government censorship,” said Deborah Ferguson, whose law firm prevailed in striking down Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014, in a prepared statement.

According to the complaint, two undercover Idaho State Police detectives were served alcohol while watching a burlesque show performed by McDonald at Boise’s Visual Arts Collective in March. The ISP then filed a complaint alleging that the art gallery failed to prevent the exposure of some parts of the female performers’ bodies in violation of state law. Idaho code prohibits the live display of certain portions of the buttocks and female breast in establishments where alcohol is served.

The Visual Arts Collective agreed to pay a fine and a short liquor suspension to avoid having its liquor license permanently revoked.

“My breasts are being made into political objects. They are part of my body and the discretion on how they are shown within the context of performance should be mine,” McDonald said, adding that standup comedians often reference sexually explicit material, but female performers are punished for approaching similar topics with body movements.

Idaho State Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plaintiffs are seeking an immediate injunction to prevent the Idaho law from being enforced at the Alley Repertory Theater’s seasonal opening of a play called “The Totalitarians” — a dark political satire.

Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers repealed a similar ban for Idaho movie theaters after a theater sued when its liquor license was threatened for showing “Fifty Shades of Grey” while serving alcohol. The Republican-dominant Legislature did not repeal the ban on live performances.


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