Three women were cited with a violation of a criminal ordinance in Laconia, New Hampshire for displaying their nipples on a beach. They are challenging the ordinance, claiming it is unconstitutional. First, they argue that there is no state law that prohibits their actions. Additionally, they claim the ordinance is discriminatory since men are allowed to go topless. Finally, they contend that their freedom of expression rights are being violated.
There’s some precedent for the New Hampshire State Supreme Court to consider when deciding this issue on Feb 1st of this year. In October, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a public indecency ordinance in Missouri was not unconstitutional even though it allowed men to show their nipples but not women. In February, however, a U.S. District Court judge ruled differently, blocking the city of Fort Collins, Colorado from enforcing a law criminalizing women from going topless. The city is appealing the decision.
Those who support the ordinance banning women from going topless argue that unless this behavior is deemed criminal, then women will show up bare breasted to little league games and libraries. They argue that they are simply trying to protect children and families.
The New Hampshire women are getting support from the ACLU of New Hampshire who agrees with the women’s argument that the ordinance violates their freedom of expression rights. The ACLU notes that free speech protections applies to both popular and unpopular forms of expression.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, in defending the ordinance, argues that the ordinance simply regulates what women can wear to the beach but doesn’t ban them entirely from the beach. They further argue that they have a right and an obligation to “prevent any disturbances,” insisting that women’s nipples would cause disturbances, while men’s nipples would not.
I have strong thoughts on this. Enough already! The time is now. I do believe it is discriminatory to ban women from going topless while permitting it for men. Over time, the shock value will decrease, leading to fewer disturbances. I believe the New Hampshire Supreme Court needs to rule in favor of women’s rights and declare the ordinance unconstitutional. It’s the right thing to do, both morally and legally.