Strip clubs in Texas are supposed to pay a special tax to help fund sexual assault prevention programs. But some allege the tax violates clubs' First Amendment rights — and lots of clubs simply aren't paying.
According to the Times, Texas levied the five-dollar-per-patron fee in 2007, claiming it would raise $40 million for rape crisis centers and low-income health insurance. But strip clubs sued, claiming "that nude dancing is a form of expression and that the so-called pole tax violates free speech protections." The tax has been tied up in court since then, and in the meantime, many strip clubs are refusing to pay.
This isn't the only First Amendment challenge to a tax law going on in Texas. Dow Jones & Co is suing the state over its decision to impose a sales tax on the Wall Street Journal — the company argues that the tax violates Journal reporters' right to free speech and equal protection, since not all publications must pay sales tax (those that cost less than $1.50 an issue are exempt). Whether stripping is a form of expression or a service that can be taxed — and whether services should be taxed in the first place — are questions for lawyers and economists. But it does seem strange to tie strip club taxes to sexual assault prevention. It's almost as if Texas is saying that strip clubs contribute to assault and should be responsible for helping stop it. As much as rape crisis centers and other service providers need funding, strip clubs are not a cause of rape — and the Texas tax code shouldn't be implying that they are.