Ever wondered what Montana's nudity law are? Uh, us neither...
Everyone comes into the world wearing a birthday suit, and nudity also plays a significant role in the baby-making procedure. Everyone loves babies, so one would think everyone would love nudity. In practice, however, the birthday suit is probably best reserved for home and/or hotel room usage. The propriety of exposing our personal parts to one another depends entirely on the context. Walking into the shower naked is fine. Walking into a baby shower naked might be inappropriate.
Public nudity is not per se illegal in the state of Montana. Under §45-5-504 of the Montana Code, a person is guilty of indecent exposure if he or she exposes his or her “genitals” under circumstances where it will cause “affront or alarm,” but only if the purpose is to either abuse somebody or to arouse the exposer’s own “sexual response or desire.”
This statute makes a lot of nudity fair game. For one thing, breasts probably don’t count as “genitals.” So girls can go at least half-wild. And if you choose your audience right, there should be no affront or alarm. Topless sunbathing in the backyard is probably fine, even though the old man next door might catch a glance if he peeks over the fence. (And he will be peeking over the fence.)
A first offense of indecent exposure could cost you $500 and 6 months in jail. The second time, it goes up to $1,000, and a possible year in jail. By the third time you get caught dropping your pants, the Montana Code stops kidding around. A third offense is a minimum five-year-sentence, with the possibility of life imprisonment, along with a possible $10,000 fine.
From there, Montana’s obscenity statute, §45-8-201, prohibits all manner of sexual displays or exhibitions to kids under 18. An obscenity offense is a misdemeanor no matter how many times you do it. Public nudity could also fall under some variation of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, depending on whether you take off your blouse during a wet T-shirt contest or during a funeral service.
The City of Bozeman has adopted its own indecent exposure ordinance. But in classic question-begging fashion, it pretty much says that no one is allowed to make any indecent or improper exposure of his or her “person” in public. Presumably the cop writing you the ticket will be the one deciding whether your “person” is indecent or improper.
The Bozeman ordinance also prohibits the "indecent or improper exhibition of any animal,” which conjures up some disturbing ideas about how or why the city ever considered the issue of indecently exhibited animals. The indecent exposure of either person or animal in Bozeman is a misdemeanor.
Although public nudity has been outlawed to varying degrees throughout Montana, nudity within the confines of a “gentleman’s club” or the like is protected as freedom of expression by the First Amendment. In practice, it has been simple to effectively prohibit strip clubs because the drafters of the First Amendment neglected to mention anything about zoning. Bozeman’s zoning provisions require that any “adult business” must be at least 500 feet away from “any other adult use, residence, residential district, school, place of worship, public park or any youth-oriented establishment,” i.e., at least 500 feet away from pretty much everything in the City of Bozeman.
Alex Roots is an attorney with Landoe, Brown, Planalp, Braaksma & Reida, P.C. of Bozeman, specializing in municipal law and insurance defense. He does not specialize in the law of public nudity, and, for God’s sake, none of the above should be construed as legal advice.