The owners of the Village Cinemas in Meridian are suing the Idaho State Police because the agency wants to revoke the theater’s liquor license. The action stems from an instance last February when undercover officers say they were served alcohol at a showing of Fifty Shades of Grey, an R-rated movie about sexual fetishes. Idaho law prohibits alcohol at movies that include sexual content.
Jeremy Chou, the lawyer representing Meridian Cinema LLC, says he doesn’t know why the state police waited more than nine months to take action. But he says when police filed the complaint, he began meeting with them.
“We discussed the merits of the case and we discussed the legal issues that were involved,” Chou says. “There was a hope that they would drop the administrative complaint. They reviewed it and made a decision that it was probably not appropriate to drop it. So I think the consensus was, ‘let the court decide.’”
In an email an Idaho State Police spokesperson says the agency’s task is enforcing Idaho’s alcohol statutes as they are written.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of this case, the statutes in place for the regulation and service of alcohol state that certain types of acts are prohibited in premises that are licensed for alcohol service. The display of sexual acts or nudity, whether live or on film, are prohibited when a premise is licensed for alcohol service. Whether or not the statutes are valid is a question for the courts to determine.
As for the timeline, we work through all different issues in ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) and handle cases as we get them. Each issue we deal with has [to] be investigated and report must be written. So it takes time to actually issue violation notice.” – Teresa Baker, ISP Public Information officer.
University of Idaho law professor Shaakirrah Sanders says the movie theater has a strong case that the Idaho law about alcohol and sexual content in movies violates First Amendment speech protections. She says in a similar California case the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled states can’t use liquor laws to infringe on free speech. Idaho is also part of the 9th Circuit. Sanders also says the Idaho law is so broadly written it could be applied to movies with almost any sexually suggestive content or nudity.
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