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The Pope, Bill Maher, and Adverse Secondary Effects

This weekend, Bill Maher made some pretty inflammatory statements about the Supreme Pontiff’s upcoming visit.

Bill Maher compared the Texas scandal and its latest alleged abuse with the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002.

“I’d like to tip off law enforcement to an even larger child-abusing religious cult,” Maher told his audience. “Its leader also has a compound, and this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats. That’s right, the Pope is coming to America this week and, ladies, he’s single.” (source)

He also claimed that when the Pope was Cardinal Ratzinger, he urged bishops to keep the sex abuse scandal under wraps until the statute of limitations ran out.

I’m not usually one to rush to the defense of religious leaders — and I am a huge Bill Maher fan — nevertheless, I must say that Maher is a little bit full of crap.

Yes, Ratzinger was a member of the hitler youth. Calling him an “ex-nazi” is the same as calling me a former religious activist. After all, I did briefly go to Sunday School before being told to never come back. (My final expulsion was when I told the nun that it made no sense that if I wasn’t old enough to smoke, drink, or watch porn, I wasn’t old enough to make decisions about my eternal soul – hence, no confirmation for me). With respect to the “statute of limitations” memo that Ratzinger allegedly authored, I can find no support for that contention.

But, I don’t condemn Maher that strongly. I just wish that he hadn’t made those statements, because they take away from a great point that he made:

If the Pope was — instead of a religious figure — merely the CEO of a nationwide chain of day care centers, where thousands of employees had been caught molesting kids and then covering it up, he’d be arrested faster than you can say ‘who wants to touch Mr. Wiggle?'”


Which brings us to my point.

In any city or county meeting where adult entertainment legislation is being proposed, inevitably some priest or pastor will stand up and rail against adult entertainment. Because of that pesky First Amendment, you can’t just ban adult entertainment. Nude dancing is protected by the First Amendment. See Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U.S. 560 (1991) (noting that it is only “marginally so”). When local governments want to regulate adult bookstores or adult cabarets, they can only do so by claiming that they are regulating the “adverse secondary effects” of these establishments.

Adverse secondary effects can be almost anything negative. Litter, crime, decreased property values, etc. When local governments argue that the regulations are passed to combat these “adverse secondary effects,” the regulations get a very deferential standard of review from the courts.

I don’t really have a huge problem with the soul of the adverse secondary effects doctrine. If strip clubs cause crime, and a city wants to regulate them to cut down on crime, I can live with that, in theory.

The problem is, no city (that I am aware of) has ever passed an adult entertainment restriction in order to cut down on crime. That has been a pretext for many regulations, but even a five-year-old can see through the lies.

So here is my question. If I ask you to name one crime that has happened in strip clubs in general, what would you tell me? I have never seen a fistfight in one. I have never seen anyone openly consuming drugs in one. I have never seen a crime of any kind in one. I’m no pollyanna. I am sure that all of the above *have* happened in strip clubs, but I’ve never seen it. On the other hand, I’ve seen all of the above many, many, many times in “regular” bars.

Based on that, why is there no drive to ban bars in general?

Lets take it to the next step. I know of no incident in which a child was molested in a strip club. On the other hand, there are thousands of documented cases in which children were molested in churches. Perhaps we should all trot down to City Hall and ask the city elders to pass a law restricting the location and operation of churches in our communities.

After all, child molestation is certainly an adverse secondary effect caused by houses of worship, is it not?

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