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ACLU Sues Over Idaho Law Linking Liquor Licenses, Obscenity

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WILL EICHELBERGER
  • Will Eichelberger
In March, the Visual Arts Collective staged a steamy performance of the Frankly Frankie burlesque show. Little did owner Samuel Stimpert know, two Idaho State Police Alcohol Beverage Control officers were in attendance.

"They observed what they perceived as violations of 23-614," Stimpert said, referring to a Gem State statute that has joined its obscenity laws with beer, wine and spirits licenses. "They threatened to revoke our license."

VAC has agreed to pay an $8,000 fine and observe a 20-day suspension of its liquor license—but that won't be the end of it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Ferguson Durham, PLLC and Van Valkenburg Law, PLLC filed suit Sept. 15 against ISP on behalf of VAC, Alley Repertory Theater and Anne McDonald, aka Frankly Frankie.

"We have a law that is antiquated," said ACLU-Idaho Legal Director Richard Eppink. "The harm [of the law] is, we can't have a vibrant culture."

The suit aims to strike down the same law that has been used by ABC against cinemas that serve alcohol while screening films that feature nudity or sexual content. One high-profile instance of the law's chilling effect on movie houses came in 2013, when The Flicks wouldn't show critically acclaimed yet racy Blue is the Warmest Color for fear of running afoul of the statute. Another instance occurred in 2015, when the Village Cinema in Meridian got dinged for screening Fifty Shades of Grey while pouring drinks. Village Cinema pushed back with a lawsuit, and this past spring the Idaho Legislature voted to grant theaters permission to serve booze along with adult-themed films. 

The challenge filed today seeks an immediate injunction to halt enforcement of the law in time for Alley Rep's preview performance of "The Totalitarians," which the theater company plans to present at VAC on Thursday, Oct. 13—preferably with the bar also in operation.

Stimpert said VAC is a significant venue for artists in the Treasure Valley, but it's only viable if he's able to serve alcohol.

"This is a large space—expensive to keep open. We tried to survive without [a liquor license] and weren't able to," he said. "We just want to keep being a cultural center."