Nude teen camp: Not on Virginia's watch

Not all summer camps are created equal. In fact, the General Assembly saw one as such a threat that it passed a bill prohibiting its program for teenagers.

White Tail Park's crime? Nudity, the very notion of which brought a lot of yuks and puns from both legislators and Governor Mark Warner.

The ACLU isn't laughing. It's filed a lawsuit challenging the new state law that denies a license to "any hotel, summer camp, or campground" that conducts a "nudist camp for juveniles."

"The legislature in Virginia had no right to restrict the right of parents to send their children to nudist camp," says the ACLU's executive director, Kent Willis. "This is government overreaching."

White Tail Park in southeastern Virginia has been a clothes-free family resort since 1984. Last summer, its weeklong program for 11-to-18-year-olds– one of only three teen nudist camps in the country– apparently got the Virginia General Assembly so hot and bothered that in a rare show of unanimity, the House of Delegates banned nude teen camps 98-2, the Senate 40-0.

And with another teen session planned for late July, the campers turned to the ACLU.

Parents and teens who attended last year testified in Richmond to the wholesome nature of the camp, where lewdness (and cameras) are strictly prohibited, and background checks are done to screen out pedophiles.

"Had someone pointed out abuse or some other problem, that's one thing," says Willis. "Legislators acted entirely on their own sense of unease."

"It's not that you can't have nudist camps," says Delegate Rob Bell. "You just can't do it without adult supervision."

And he scoffs at the idea that the nudity is nonsexual. "For a 17 year old? Right."

Continues Bell, "I'm astonished this is where the ACLU wants to devote its resources."

"We operate on the principle that government is reaching too far into the private lives of its citizens," replies Willis. "There was no indication there was any harm in that camp, it fits with ACLU principles, and we had people asking us to represent them."

Senator Creigh Deeds isn't comfortable with the idea of teen camp au naturel. "I don't know that it's good public policy for us to allow children to be in nudist camps," he says.

And while he weighs whether the government should substitute its judgment for parents', he decides, "The state does have an interest in protecting children 11 years old."

Only Delegate Mitch Van Yahres is having second thoughts about the appropriateness of the legislation. He thinks the bill didn't get enough debate in committee or on the floor. "It was a joke on the floor," he says. "It's one of those in retrospect I probably should have voted against, once the true picture came out."

"If the camp had been in West Virginia," laments Deeds, "then we wouldn't have to deal with it."