Is bare-chestedness legal here? (Part 4, local ordinances)

York, Maine. Saturday evening, Summer 2015
York, Maine. Saturday evening, Summer 2015

So on to the annoying little local ordinance.  The fly in the ointment!  Here’s where I usually find myself getting angry at injustice, because local governments can pass whatever laws they want.  If they violate the constitution, it takes someone to challenge it before they will change their laws to comply with the constitution.

Take Maine for example.  Maine case law asserts that women have the right to appear bare-chested in public where men can appear bare-chested.  York Beach, however, has a local ordinance forbidding women from baring breasts on the beach (just the beach, the rest of the town is okay.)  So basically this is York saying, we know the Maine courts say you’re equal, but not on our beach.  Grrr.  The problem is that for me to challenge this, I basically have to sue, lobby the York city council (from Maryland), or get arrested and go have the ordinance declared unconstitutional, which violates my first assertion, namely that I don’t wish to be arrested.

Deep breath.

Most local ordinances are online and I have found that usually the local ordinance regarding indecent exposure reflects the language in the state law, but occasionally like in York, they differ.  So be aware.  The constitutional challenge will overturn your conviction, not keep you from getting arrested in the street or on the beach.

An important caveat though.  Many local governments ban strip clubs by including some language about women not being able to partake in “commerce” or earning money while exposing their breasts or nipples.  Many of these statutes will use language that specifically defines female breasts or nipples as illegal.

Please understand this definition of nudity only applies to strip clubs and commerce.  I emphasize this because police will sometimes mistake this for the definition of indecent public exposure.  Be firm.  These are different things.

In summary, know your laws.  Your state constitution is a powerful tool to have in your back pocket but it won’t keep you from getting arrested.  What will keep you from getting arrested is going bare-chested in places with either no or vague language about breasts, keeping calm if confronted, complying with lawful orders and remaining civil even in the face of incivility.


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