New Jersey Nudity Laws and How They Apply To Naturist Events
Guide To New Jersey Nudity Laws
Given the legal issues that naturists often face, it can be very useful to have a good understanding of state nudity laws. In any state it can be an ongoing battle to pursue naturist activities outdoors or indoors. There are even states like Arkansas where it is illegal to practice or even promote social nudism.
At YNA we organize many events in northern / central New Jersey and have had our fair share of issues with law enforcement. In 2011, local police shut down our Nude Year’s Eve party before it could even happen.
Since we were regularly hosting private naturist events at Terlam gym / spa, we consulted a lawyer so as to be completely clear on all NJ laws pertaining to nudity. Terlam has since closed, but for anyone else looking to host private naturist events in NJ, whether at a gym or elsewhere, we thought it would be useful to share this information!
This is what our lawyer had to say:
“There are several criminal statutes which relate to nudity in the state of New Jersey. I am of the opinion that your past weekly events at Terlam Women’s Fitness did not violate any of them. You should be aware of them, however. With all of the information below, you should be aware that there is nothing keeping you from being wrongfully prosecuted under these statutes, just as there is no way that a police officer won’t make a mistake and arrest you for any crime you didn’t commit.
Police do sometimes harass law abiding citizens. Similarly, because much of the practice of law is up for interpretation, and because the system is not perfect, judges can make mistakes too. The inherent unpredictability in a judge’s decision-making process makes it impossible to guarantee that you will be free and clear of any culpability under these statutes.
Statute: NJSA 2C:14-4. Lewdness.
a. A person commits a disorderly persons offense if he does any flagrantly lewd and offensive act which he knows or reasonably expects is likely to be observed by other nonconsenting persons who would be affronted or alarmed.
- If you organized a private party / event, anyone who attends would be a consenting person. As long as no one steps into public view unclothed, there is no concern. If your windows are adequately covered and the space closed off for your event, no one is in public view unless he or she steps outside. In this case, the common sense rule is to put on clothing if he or she does step out into public view.
Statute: b. A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if:
(1) He exposes his intimate parts for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the actor or of any other person under circumstances where the actor knows or reasonably expects he is likely to be observed by a child who is less than 13 years of age where the actor is at least four years older than the child.
(2) He exposes his intimate parts for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the actor or of any other person under circumstances where the actor knows or reasonably expects he is likely to be observed by a person who because of mental disease or defect is unable to understand the sexual nature of the actor’s conduct.
- This subsection is also irrelevant to naturists because, as I understand it, sexual gratification is not tolerated at your events. If anyone under the age of 13 years old is present, or anyone with diminished capacity is present, you should be particularly strict about regulating anyone pleasuring themselves or others inappropriately. In any event, the criminal is not the person who hosts the party, but the individual committing the act. At worst you could be charged as an accessory… a charge that would only stick if you actively encouraged the act.
Statute: NJSA 2C:24-4 Endangering welfare of children.
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gifa. (1) Any person having a legal duty for the care of a child or who has assumed responsibility for the care of a child who engages in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child is guilty of a crime of the second degree. Any other person who engages in conduct or who causes harm as described in this paragraph to a child is guilty of a crime of the third degree.
- This specifically includes nudity but only when nudity is depicted for the purpose of sexual gratification. That is not the purpose of a naturist event. Again, the potential Defendant here is the child’s parent, not you, as long as you are not claiming to provide any sort of childcare service.
Statute: NJSA2C:33-12.2. Sexually oriented business, nuisance; crime
2. a. As used in this act:
(1) “Sexually oriented business” means:
(a) A commercial establishment which as one of its principal business purposes offers for sale, rental, or display any of the following:
Books, magazines, periodicals or other printed material, or photographs, films, motion pictures, video cassettes, slides or other visual representations which depict or describe a “specified sexual activity” or “specified anatomical area”; or still or motion picture machines, projectors or other image-producing devices which show images to one person per machine at any one time, and where the images so displayed are characterized by the depiction of a “specified sexual activity” or “specified anatomical area”; or instruments, devices, or paraphernalia which are designed for use in connection with a “specified sexual activity”; or
- As long as you aren’t selling any depictions of nudity, this doesn’t apply to you.
Statute: (b) A commercial establishment which regularly features live performances characterized by the exposure of a “specified anatomical area” or by a “specified sexual activity,” or which regularly shows films, motion pictures, video cassettes, slides, or other photographic representations which depict or describe a “specified sexual activity” or “specified anatomical area”;
- As long as there are no performances or movies shown at the event, this does not apply to you.
Statute: NJSA 2C:34-2.Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gifObscenity for persons 18 years of age or older
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gifa. Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif Definitions for purpose of this section:
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif (1) Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif “Obscene material” means any description, narrative account, display, or depiction of sexual activity or anatomical area contained in, or consisting of, a picture or other representation, publication, sound recording, live performance, or film, which by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details:
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif (a) Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gifDepicts or describes in a patently offensive way, ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, masturbation, excretory functions, or lewd exhibition of the genitals,
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif (b) Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gifLacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value, when taken as a whole, and
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif (c) Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gifIs a part of a work, which to the average person applying contemporary community standards, has a dominant theme taken as a whole, which appeals to the prurient interest.
- There is nothing obscene about the human body. This has been established in many Courts, including the US Supreme Court and New Jersey’s own Supreme Court. This will not affect you.
Statute: NJSA 2C:34-3. Obscenity for persons under 18
a. Definitions for purposes of this section:
Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif(1) “Obscene material” means any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity contained in, or consisting of, a picture or other representation, publication, sound recording, live performance or film, which by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details, emits sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest on the area or activity.
- It’s worth noting how this definition differs from the definition of obscenity for an adult. It does not care whether the content has artistic or educational value and it includes nudity paired with “sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest on the area or activity.” This means it has to be enough to make a 13 year old boy horny. This may not seem like a high bar to get under, but the fact that this qualification exists, means that nudity alone is not obscene to minors. An anatomy book in a school library is not obscene, nor is Kurt Vonnegut’s description of a picture of a woman fornicating with a horse in Slaughterhouse 5, because it is clear that there is no intention to stimulate the prurient interest.
- *If there were any sort of performance, dancing, display of a film, or anything else besides people hanging out in the nude around a pool and steam room, I would keep the minors home.
Statute: Description: http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/sd42images/tab.gif(1) A person who knowingly sells, distributes, rents or exhibits to a person under 18 years of age obscene material is guilty of a crime of the third degree.
There are other laws concerning sexual oriented businesses, but none of these apply to you. As far as the health code goes, the State of New Jersey has authorized municipalities to regulate the public health as they see fit. Any local ordinances are to be enforced by the local health inspector, and generally, a municipal court judge will not care about the constitutionality of a particular code being enforced. They will end up siding with the health inspector and fining you again and again until you correct the behavior. If you are hit with a fine for violating any health code, you have the right to appeal it, but that is incredibly expensive, much more expensive than paying the fine, which is why municipal judges do not care about whether the ordinance is constitutional or not. Whatever the health inspector asks of you, listen, or face fines as a result. Much like traffic tickets, health code violations raise a good deal of money for a Township, which is a consideration when Judges are up for term renewal.
From what I’ve been able to gather, you should be permitted to have people in the exercise area. Use of the free weights would be fine as would a naked yoga class.
The problem comes with the use of equipment, including benches, workout machines, spin bikes, treadmills, exercise bikes or those big balls. Contact between an individual’s bare buttocks or genitalia is not permitted on any shared equipment. If someone brings their own towel and drapes it over equipment, you should be ok. However, it is difficult to ensure that all contact is eliminated entirely without underwear.
As I stated above, because judges are hardly impartial and also because the health inspector knows the health code better than I do, it would be wise to defer to whatever the health inspector advises on this point. If you can get his or her statements as to what is permissible in writing, in the form of a letter, I would… so that if the inspector changes and the new one interprets a provision differently, you at least have a solid defense as to why you were in violation and you can avoid any fines.
If the police do attempt to enter the premises, the operator, should not let them inside under any circumstances without a warrant. To get a warrant, they need to find a judge who will agree that it is more likely than not that some sort of criminal activity is going on there. It prevents them from busting down your door so they can get their jollies looking at a bunch of naked people. If they come in anyway, anything they see or find inside would not be permitted in a court of law. If you allow them in, you lose this protection.
A private party / event would not be open to the general public – including the police. You can answer their questions outside the premises, but if they would like to come in without a warrant, they have to be party guests (or members of whatever organization is hosting the event).
You should avoid getting into a discussion about the nature of the statutes above. If they question you, avoid making any positive statements, especially concerning the presence of children.
You’ve heard of the right to remain silent. This is much more important than people realize. This is a constitutional right against self incrimination guaranteed by the 5th Amendment to the Constitution. Your decision to remain silent (or plead the 5th) cannot be used against you. But if you do make an admission, you are opening yourself up to a misplaced prosecution for a number of the statutes above. Even if you are found to be not guilty, you will not be reimbursed your legal fees and the time and energy spent on defending your case could be easily avoided by keeping your mouth shut.
In addition, you never know how a puritanical Judge might interpret the laws differently than I do. The police, in this situation, are not here to protect or serve you. If they come knocking at your door, they are not there to offer their assistance and you won’t be able to convince them that they should be.
Your statement to the police should be something along the lines of:
‘Officer, I apologize, but I’m hosting a private event at a private location. Admission to the event is limited to members of the YNA organization and is not open to the public, so I cannot let you in. We are not conducting any unlawful activity here. If you would like to enter the premises, you should either come back with a warrant, or join the organization. We host events here weekly and it is good, wholesome fun.’
You should have a sign posted on the front door stating: ‘The premises is closed for a private event. YNA members only.’ ”
So there you have it! Although these are all the pertinent NJ statutes regarding nudity and it was written by a lawyer, by no means does it cover every single situation. Laws can be tricky, they constantly change and sometimes city ordinances may trump state law so… When in doubt about a legal matter, it’s best to consult a lawyer.
This article about New Jersey Nudity Laws was published by – Young Naturists & Nudists America YNA