Burning Man Lawsuit Filed, Show May be in Jeopardy

By Andrew Lu on August 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The organizers of Burning Man have filed a federal lawsuit against a Nevada county to prevent an ordinance from taking effect that would have the effect of buttoning up the popular arts festival.

Pershing County has an ordinance in place that could require Burning Man participants to wear clothing and enable sheriff's deputies to regulate activities they consider to be "obscene, indecent, vulgar, or lewd," reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Given that Burning Man embodies naked people doing naked things, the ordinance would have a serious impact on the wild everything-goes nature of the Burning Man festival.

Whether the Pershing County ordinance will go into effect next year will likely hinge on a jurisdictional battle between the county and the federal government.

In the Burning Man lawsuit, the organizers of the event say that they have received a federal permit to run the festival in the Black Rock Desert from the federal Bureau of Land Management. They argue that Pershing County has no jurisdiction to impose additional restrictions as the federal government already signed off on the festival.

On the other hand, Pershing County could counter that it is simply exercising the powers widely recognized of local governments to ensure the health and safety of its constituents.

A court would have the difficult task to determine what rights the federal government has over the Black Rock Desert where the festival is held. And if the federal government does have jurisdiction over the lands, the court will have to determine whether Pershing County has the ability to regulate what happens regardless of it being on federal land.

The Burning Man lawsuit is significant as the festival is the primary economic draw in an otherwise desolate region. If the festival becomes completely gentrified, the folks who make the festival unique may move on, dooming the future of the festival.

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