November 23, 2005

Topless Protest Busted

Saturday November 05th 2005, 11:49 am
Filed under: Obscene!, Free Speech?

The protest plans of a Northern California anti-war group have been nixed by a federal judge. A group of Mendocino women had planned a “Breasts Not Bombs” rally at the state capitol in Sacramento. A US district judge put the kibosh on the mammaries, however, saying that going topless doesn’t constitute free expression.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell said the group made no compelling argument that showing their breasts constitutes free speech.

“Being topless is not inherently expressive” speech, Burrell said. The group, Breasts Not Bombs, had scheduled a protest for noon Monday. The California Highway Patrol threatened to arrest anyone who went topless.

Sherry Glaser, a leader of the group, said the protest may take place without bare breasts.

“All we really have is the power of ourselves,” she said. “Our bodies bring attention.”

Group members, whose protest on the west steps of the Capitol is intended to contrast the “indecent” initiatives backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the November ballot with their “natural and decent” breasts, sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting CHP officers from arresting women who protest topless.

The First Amendment protects their right to protest bare breasted, the group argued. “The very act is a dynamic and fully expressive statement worthy of constitutional protection,” their brief asserts.

But Burrell didn’t buy that argument.

“Do you think the founding fathers had this in mind when they drafted the First Amendment?” he asked Matthew Kumin, the lawyer representing Breasts Not Bombs.

Lawyers for the state said no previous group has been allowed to protest on Capitol grounds unclothed. Those protesters who have disrobed were ordered to put their clothes on or face arrest.

“It has always been our policy that we do not allow nudity on the Capitol’s grounds,” said Tom Marshall, a CHP spokesman.

Allowing public nudity on the Capitol grounds would also be disruptive and possibly dangerous, the state argued.

“The state Capitol is a destination for California residents and tourists from around the world. Hundreds of California schoolchildren visit on a daily basis. They often enjoy their lunch on the west steps of the Capitol,” the lawyers for the attorney general’s office wrote.

“What visitors to the Capitol do not and cannot expect is to see topless adults and children engaged in public nudity under the guise of political protest.”

« What is indecency? »

A Bay Area Craigslist posting issuing a call to arms for topless activists reads as follows:

We have a message for Mr. Schwarzenegger:

* Special Elections are indecent! * Groping women in elevators is indecent!

* School budget cuts are indecent! * Violence against women is indecent!

* Threatening teachers is indecent! Disrespecting nurses is indecent!

* Redistricting for political gain is indecent! Driving a Hummer is indecent!

* War is indecent! Poverty is indecent! Hunger is indecent! Fixing elections is indecent!

* Interfering with a woman’s right to choose is indecent! Discrimination because of sexual orientation is indecent!

It’s time to expose the real boobs among us!

Breasts are NOT indecent! Baring our breasts, even being totally nude in a political demonstration, is protected by the First Amendment and affirmed by a US Appellate Court

We invite you to join us to bare witness to the outrageous behavior of the governor and let the public know that we are paying attention and unwilling to be silent or bullied into submission.

Join us in a display of simple emotional theater as a nonviolent response to the buying and selling of Democracy in this country….

Men are welcome as they have breasts too.

California will hold a tremendously expensive and highly unpopular special election this coming Tuesday. The ballot is stacked with Governor Schwarzenegger’s pet propositions (on which he has spent over $7 million of his own money, according to newspaper reports).

Breasts Not Bombs recently held rallies in Ashland, OR; and Washington, DC.

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9 Comments so far

Maybe they can rename that part of the protest “Bikinis not Bombs.”

Comment by Eric Jaffa 11.05.05 @ 11:58 am

I agree that banning pubic nudity doesn’t violate the US Constitution.

Though the arguments that this protest would be dangerous seems kind of silly.

Comment by Eric Jaffa 11.05.05 @ 12:03 pm

How is it that any man might strip off his shirt at a football game to root for his chosen team, and yet when a woman wants to do the very same act as a means of political expression she is subject to arrest and possible registration as a “Sex Offender”?

I am sorry, but that does seem to violate the US Constitution to me.

Comment by Thebes 11.06.05 @ 1:50 am

I agree, Thebes, that it’s the double standard that is the problem.

Comment by Amanda Toering 11.06.05 @ 5:03 pm

Double standard? You can’t be serious… For obvious reasons it’s not appropriate for women to not have tops in public. I really don’t think that’s appropriate for some 10 or 12 year old boy to see on the way to school. Do you?

Comment by wally 11.06.05 @ 8:56 pm

Wally -

I’m going to take your side on this one.

I don’t think a man going topless in a park is similar to a woman going topless in a park.

Comment by Eric Jaffa 11.06.05 @ 9:15 pm

I’m serious indeed.

I understand that as a culture we’ve made the distinction between men’s breasts and women’s.

I don’t understand where it comes from, though. Care to elaborate on why it’s harmful for a 10 or 12 year old to be exposed to breasts? (Or on why Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction was so inherently damaging?)

Seriously. What’s the difference? Breasts are breasts. To (straight) men, they may be inherently sexual. But that’s not women’s problem.

Comment by Amanda Toering 11.06.05 @ 9:23 pm

I’ve decided to revise my position.

I don’t think it should be legal for people to strip in protest anytime, anywhere.

However, if it’s feasible for them to stage this protest such that only people who want to see it do so (which may or may not be feasible) then I would consider it protected speech.

Comment by Eric Jaffa 11.07.05 @ 9:22 am

not sex, but political protest

Was yesterday’s report of lesbian cheerleader sex just a protest against long lines at women’s bathrooms?

… two Mendocino women were arrested in front of the Capitol for baring their breasts as part of a political protest Monday…

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