The Osaka District Court recently acquitted a nightclub operator of the charge of debasing sexual morals by allowing patrons in his club to dance. Perhaps only in the strictest countries in the world could such a charge actually be taken to court, but Japan is still saddled with out-of-date regulations on morality. Unfortunately the statute does little other than prohibit young people from having a good time.

The ruling found the club owner, Masatoshi Kanemitsu, not guilty, noting that his customers were neither engaging in indecent behavior nor threatening standards of sexual morality. Yet, the court also found current regulations “necessary and rational” and worth considering in the public interest.

It is hard to see why decent, moral behavior that causes no harm should be regulated. The freedom to engage in such behavior is one of the essential marks of a free and open society. The possibility of a review of the Law Concerning Business Affecting Public Morals is now greater than ever. Lawyers who helped defend the club owner said they would — justifiably — ask for a revision of the law.

The specific law regulating businesses and public morals was enacted in 1948. At that time, the law was primarily aimed at restricting prostitution in dance halls. For many years, though, the police turned a blind eye to dance clubs and nightclubs that did not apply for special permits for dancing. As the applications were complex, detailed and usually rejected, club owners refrained from even applying. Dancing went on in many clubs even without official approval.

However, in recent years the police have clamped down on clubs that did not have approval for dancing from a prefectural public safety commission.

Insisting that the clubs caused too much noise, the police started to shut down dance clubs around the country and to arrest some of the owners.

Reasons for the shift in enforcement policy were never clearly explained, and as a result, the court became the venue for deciding what to do. What is needed instead of more arrests and more trials are updated and reasonable regulations.

The lawyers defending club owner Kanemitsu argued that drinking alcohol and dancing to loud music in dim light was neither hedonistic nor disruptive of sexual morals.

Instead, they argued that applying such an outdated law to dance clubs nowadays infringes on the freedom of expression and the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Their arguments are strong ones and should form the basis for amending the current law to better accord with the present morals of modern society.

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