Citizens for Community Values, an extreme right-wing group from Cincinnati, pressured state legislators in May 2007 to vote for Senate Bill 16, which places severe restrictions on adult businesses. Opponents of the law say they have collected enough signatures to have Ohio voters decide its fate in a referendum this November.

Some commentators have downplayed the issue by saying Ohioans don’t care about strip clubs. While that may generally be true, the referendum involves other matters Ohioans should care deeply about: honesty in government, the state’s economy, law-enforcement priorities, and individual liberty.

As some media reports have shown, CCV used dishonest tactics in promoting the bill, such as by saying the new restrictions will reduce crime. The group never mentions the scientific studies showing that adult businesses don’t cause crime, and the studies indicating that highly repressive sexual attitudes – which CCV promotes – do contribute to crime.

Moreover, the media reported that CCV’s representatives lied to legislators and the public by saying eight states had passed laws “similar” to SB 16, when in fact none have. Also during the legislative debates, CCV’s president denied to a reporter that the group’s goals include banning gay adoptions and foster parenting. But CCV’s literature shows that those next bans are high priorities.

And CCV’s president – a self-professed recovering “porn addict” – recently told a reporter the bill does not subject dancers and customers to arrests for trivial acts such as a touch on the elbow. The bill’s plain language clearly does.

If Ohioans want to restore ethics in state government, they should not let their legislature enact harmful laws rewarding persons who have used dishonest lobbying tactics. That’s what the legislature did with SB 16.

Based on the state government’s performance in recent years, public officials should have learned by now that it’s a mistake to condone instead of condemn unethical behavior. Rewarding dishonest tactics in government increases the behavior, and Ohio has already had more than its share.

As for the economic effects on the state, SB 16 definitely is harmful. Adult businesses contribute an estimated $250 million to Ohio’s economy. They provide jobs for about 10,000 workers, including cashiers, bartenders, waiters, cooks, valets, deejays, entertainers, security personnel, managers, advertisers, accountants, and lawyers.

In view of Ohio’s serious economic problems, the last thing the state needs is a legislative assault on the jobs of those workers. Many of them depend on the jobs to support their families or pay for schooling. And they pay taxes to support public services used by everyone.

Additionally, with all the violent crime, property crime, and white-collar crime in society, many Ohioans don’t want the police wasting time and resources arresting people in adult businesses for elbow touches or handshakes.

The police themselves seem to feel that way. Not one major law-enforcement organization testified in support of SB 16. They apparently believe that local regulation of adult businesses is working fine.

Further, a lot of Americans still think the U.S. is supposed to be the land of the free. They agree with Thomas Jefferson’s statement in his First Inaugural Address: “A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”

Many subscribers to that view are traditional conservatives, not pseudo-conservatives such as CCV’s leaders. As Sen. Barry Goldwater wrote in a 1994 essay: “The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.”

Under Jefferson and Goldwater’s standards, harmless consensual touching should not be a concern of the government. But SB 16 makes that, and other harmless and trivial acts, the government’s business. And where are these continuing governmental restrictions on personal freedom going to end?

Overall, the referendum on SB 16 can be viewed as being between lovers of liberty and say-anything-to-win theocrats. Ohioans should be deeply concerned about that contest, and choose sides accordingly

[Update: Although opponents of the law turned in over 600,000 signatures, the Ohio Secretary of State ruled that the requirement of submitting 241,000 valid signatures was not met. Thus, the referendum did not occur. The constitutionality of the law is being challenged in federal court.]