Controversy in a small town moved towards the next chapter on July 13 as Drain City Council continued work on a draft ordinance and considered business licenses in response to the opening of Top of the Bowl, a local nude entertainment nightclub.
Councilor Jo Barker expressed her displeasure with the establishment, which she believes is a “great concern” for vulnerable members of the community as adult entertainment would attract “unsavory elements” to the city.
Top of the Bowl, which opened last month, caused a stir in the community when locals became aware of the inclusion of nude dancers.
The company has billed itself as a bar and restaurant with “special events” that include sporting events, poker tournaments, live music, burlesque shows, and topless dancing for men and women.
At a June 8 meeting of Drain City Council, large numbers of parishioners denounced the business as sinful in various ways, corrupted the youth and likely brought illegal activities such as drugs and sex trafficking into the community.
Protesting voices particularly criticized the location of the house – the second floor of a building next to the Gateway Family Fellowship church.
“We are clearly against any type of adult business or activity or sexually oriented activity near our church,” Church pastor Ray Perry said at the June 8 council meeting. “Especially not next door – especially if we share a property line.”
The ordinance proposed by the city, among other things, places a 500-foot boundary between adult entertainment establishments and places where children could congregate, including churches, schools, daycare centers, libraries, parks and playgrounds.
Since Top of the Bowl is about 25 feet from the adjacent church, it would fall into that category. However, since the deal has already been opened, the question remains whether the regulation can be enforced retrospectively.
“I’m not sure about that,” said Drain Mayor Justin Cobb, adding that other levels of law enforcement could potentially complicate matters.
During the July 13 meeting, councilors and staff heard testimony from Ray Hacke, an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute, who responded to a letter from the Gateway Family Fellowship Church.
The Pacific Justice Institute is a not-for-profit legal protection organization that specializes in defending religious freedom and parental rights. The nonprofit volunteers on cases involving religion and other civil liberties and made headlines in May when it filed suit against Governor Kate Brown, questioning her emergency powers during the pandemic.
Hacke suspected that Drain’s proposed regulation would take place in court.
The attorney also voiced concerns about the indecency of the Top of the Bowl nude events.
“An adult entertainment company doesn’t have a store right next to a church. There is no shop next to a place where children gather, ”he argued. “These places attract sexual predators.”
Hacke also pointed out certain vulnerable populations going to and from drug, alcohol and sex addiction programs in the church.
“Here you are tempted to come right on your doorstep,” he said.
Meanwhile, city administrator Steve Dahl said there were concerns about an Oregon Supreme Court case that would turn the ordinance into a matter of freedom of expression.
“My recommendation is not to sue the city,” said Dahl. “And I fear that if we adhere to this regulation, we will bring a lawsuit against them in this direction in the city.”
Cobb felt differently, however.
“While the Supreme Court ruled that adult entertainment companies are a form of freedom of speech and cannot be banned outright, they can be governed by an ordinance of time, place and manner that is enforceable,” he said.
Cobb went on to explain that, as far as he understands the law, such restrictions are constitutional if the city allows some space within the jurisdiction in which the company can be incorporated.
Hacke also said that restricting “time, place and manner” would not violate freedom of expression and that the regulation would win regardless of a lawsuit in court.
Cobb then asked Barker, Dahl, and Hacke to work on a final version of the ordinance to be proposed at the next city council meeting.
City councils also considered introducing business licenses in Drain as another strategy to restrict nude entertainment in the city, though the mayor said he was reluctant to do so.
“I firmly believe that government control is very limited,” said Cobb. “It just feels wrong for me to get a business license. It is against my better instinct to want to do this. “
Cobb recommended that the city consult with local business owners on the issue before making a decision.
“If we’re going to get business licenses, I want it to be as clear and simple as possible,” he said.
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