Absent Formal Attorney General Opinion, New Topless Women Policy In Place On Ocean City Beach
[Jun 07 2017 | by Shawn Soper | via The MD Coast Dispatch]
OCEAN CITY — With still no formal opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office on the legality of women going topless in the same area as men are allowed to go shirtless, the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) this week issued a directive to turn a blind eye, so to speak, on the issue.
Last August, at the request of Maryland resident Chelsea Covington, Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby reached out to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office (MAGO) seeking an opinion on the legality of women going topless in the same areas where men are allowed to go shirtless under the Equal Protection Act. It’s an opinion that could have serious repercussions in the resort area. Covington, an advocate for female bare-chestedness in public through the TopFreedom initiative, often goes topless in public places in Maryland, including Ocean City and Assateague.
Roughly 10 months later, the MAGO has not handed down a formal opinion on the issue, nor ostensibly any directives for law enforcement agencies on how to handle the issue in the interim. Absent a clear-cut directive from the Attorney General’s Office, the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) and the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) are handling the female topless issue with kid gloves, careful to respect the rights of all involved including those females who choose to go topless and the countless visitors and residents who might be offended.
Just last weekend, three women were reportedly casually sunbathing topless on the beach at 11th Street. On Tuesday, OCBP Captain Butch Arbin said the beach patrol had not received any formal opinion from the MAGO, but was working under the assumption Maryland’s laws on the issue were rather nebulous and difficult to enforce.
“The bottom line is that according to the attorney general, there is no enforceable law on the books that prohibits topless females,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it is good for Ocean City or the families that wish to visit an All-American city, but we only enforce the laws and ordinances. Therefore, our staff has been give specific direction on this issue.”
That specific directive was carefully spelled out in a policy statement issued by Arbin to his OCBP staff on Tuesday. Essentially, the policy statement, dated retroactively to May 20, states the Beach Patrol will carefully document complaints of female bare-chestedness on the beach, but will not approach women who exercise their apparent rights to go topless.
“Until we get specific guidance from the State’s Attorney, the City Solicitor and the Mayor and Council, we will handle complaints about women going topless on our beaches in the following manner,” the policy statement reads. “We will document the complaint on a minor incident form with information and particulars about the situation and the complainant’s information. We will not approach the topless woman, even if requested to do so by the complainant or other beach patrons.”
Of course, simply sunbathing topless might not be illegal under current Maryland law, but if a scene is created or an incident escalates, it could fall under other ordinances such as disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct, for example. Naturally, exposing ones genitals, for example, would not be a protected freedom in any case. The OCBP policy statement issued on Tuesday asserts laws already on the books will continue to be enforced.
“Violations of any other ordinance or law will be enforced as our policy and procedure dictates,” the policy statement reads. “In addition, exposing genitals for either a male or a female is clearly considered indecent exposure and is a violation of state law. In such a case, we are to request of the violator that they cover those areas, and if necessary, we will request assistance from the Ocean City Police Department.”
The OCBP policy statement also outlines the procedures if a situation involving a topless female escalates.
“If the complaint results in a confrontation between the parties, we will intervene to ensure it does not escalate and request an area supervisor,” the policy statement reads. “If at any time the situation appears to become physical, we will request police assistance. If at any time the complainant requests an Ocean City Police Department response, then we will make that request on their behalf through Ocean City Communications.”
Arbin said he did not anticipate any major problems from the issue while awaiting a formal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office. He said in his four decades-plus on the patrol, there have only been a few instances and they were typically handled rather easily.
“For the past 44 years, I have simply asked a woman who was topless to cover up,” he said. “This has never been an issue and in 99 percent of the cases, it was a foreign visitor who just didn’t know and was happy to comply.”
For her part, Covington said this week while there was still no formal opinion from the state, the beach patrol’s proactive approach represented a refreshing turn of events in the ongoing debate.
“I am quite pleased to hear the Ocean City Beach Patrol is training its staff to treat women and men equally,” she said. “I trust the Ocean City Police Department will follow the same guidance and join the many states and municipalities around the country that already recognize female bare-chestedness to be a legal and healthy act.”
Meanwhile, the OCPD also has not received any formal directive from the OAG and will continue its stated policy of being cognizant of rights of all involved, with the emphasis on “all.” Two weeks ago, OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard said the department was exploring all of the enforcement alternatives while it awaited a formal directive and that policy has not changed.
“We have been working closely with Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby, and we continue to anxiously wait for an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office on how to handle this matter,” said Richard. “As we wait for an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General, we have been closely examining the legal alternatives. We have discussed at great length how to honor the rights of all of the millions of visitors who come to Ocean City.”
Covington said the apparent thaw signaled a baby step in acceptance of female bare-chestedness and urged all involved to keep an open mind going forward.
“In light of this new normal, I ask people to consider their feelings on equality, body positivity, shaming and the hyper-sexualization of the American female body,” she said. “Female breasts are normal and healthy. I look forward to a future in which all Americans are treated equally under the law, not just in this regard but in all regards.”
She said she also hoped the OCPD and law enforcement agencies across the state would not adopt a policy of harassment for those who choose to exercise their new-found freedom.
“I also ask the Ocean City Police Department to train is officers that female bare-chestedness is not a crime, but harassment is,” she said. “Some people may consider a bare-chested female to be somehow exempt from harassment laws. It is illegal and wrong to harass someone, regardless of attire.”
A look at state laws governing women’s rights to go topless in public places appears to be a patchwork of varying degrees of legality. In just three states, Indiana, Tennessee and Utah, is female toplessness completely illegal. In the vast majority of the states, there is some degree of topless freedom, however, local ordinances in many cases supersede state law. In several other states, including Maryland and Delaware, the laws are considered ambiguous and in need of clarification.
For her part, Covington has certainly done her homework on the issue. In a 28-page brief she prepared and presented to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office last August, Covington carefully outlines the existing language covering indecent exposure in Maryland, which is somewhat ambiguous, state laws in neighboring states, extensive case law and opinions from high courts across the country and even specific cases in neighboring jurisdictions where gender equality has superseded any pre-conceived notions of societal norms. After reviewing the case law and the existing statutes in Maryland, Covington has concluded in her extensive brief the opinion should be clear.
While the Maryland commissioners’ manual indicates the deliberate exposure of one’s private parts is considered the crime of indecent exposure, it does not include any definitions of what are considered “private parts.” Of course, many likely consider female breasts as private parts that should be covered in public, but there does appear to a double standard in terms of gender equality.
Covington certainly believes so and is part of a growing campaign to increase awareness and eliminate the double standard under the Equal Protection Act. In her blog Breasts Are Healthy, Covington relates stories of her efforts in other states. In one blog entry, she reports on sunbathing topless in Ocean City on a crowded summer beach and the relative apathy with which the public reacted. In her lengthy brief submitted to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, she points out it boils down to the simple issue of gender equality.
“Absent any legal language or precedent defining the female breast as indecent, and with the strong guarantees of gender equality that exist in Maryland, it is inappropriate for police to enforce societal prejudices about what is ‘proper’ attire or behavior for females when they do not enforce the same standard for males,” the brief reads.
: И незамедлительно воспоследовавшая реакция местных властей --
OCEAN CITY PASSES EMERGENCY LAW AGAINST TOPFREEDOM FOR WOMEN
[Jun 14 2017 | by Felicity Jones | via YNA]
Ocean City Deems Topfreedom “Unpalatable” and Unsuitable For Families
Last week, news came out that topfreedom was allowed, or more precisely, not outlawed, for women at Ocean City beach in Maryland. This was after three women were recently seen sunbathing topfree, and word got out that the Ocean City Beach Patrol had issued a memo telling their staff not to bother topfree women.
This, however, was not done in the name of gender equality. It was based on the absence of any law against it. There are currently no state laws against women’s topfreedom in Maryland.
People thought this was great news. Meanwhile Ocean City was trying to quickly backtrack their new reputation as having a topfree beach. On June 9, a post appeared on the .gov website declaring, “Ocean City Is Not A Topless Beach & Will Not Become A Topless Beach.” It clarified that the Mayor and City Council were firmly against women’s topfreedom.
On June 10, just 3 days after the first story came out, Ocean City unanimously passed an emergency law against women being topless anywhere within the city. Violating the ordinance is a “municipal infraction” subject to a fine of up to $1,000. (Hefty punishment for having female breasts!)
There was lots of talk from the Mayor about OC being a “family” destination and how they need to protect the kids from exposure to female breasts. No word on what kind of detrimental effect all the male breasts have had on these kids over the years.
I couldn’t find the full ordinance to read online (if anyone finds it, please share), but have seen excerpts, and it’s terrible. Unsurprisingly it reveals just how sexist and stupid the city officials are. Here are a few excerpts I’ve pulled from this article at Maryland Coast Dispatch:
“There is no constitutional right for an individual to appear in public nude or in a state of nudity. It does not implicate either the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the right to privacy, or a protected liberty interest. It lacks any communicated value that might call for First Amendment protection, nor does it implicate the right or privacy or the right to be alone. One does not have right to impose one’s lifestyle on others who have an equal right to be left alone.” [Being topfree is a LIFESTYLE, now?]
“…Whatever personal right one has to be nude or in a state of nudity, that right becomes subject to government interest and regulation when one seeks to exercise it in public… A gender-based distinction challenged under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution is gauged by an important government interest this is substantially accomplished by the challenged discriminatory means.”
“…Protecting the public sensibilities is an important governmental interest based on the indisputable difference between the sexes. Further, a prohibition against females baring their breasts in public, although not offensive to everyone, is still seen by society as unpalatable.” [LADIES, YOUR BREASTS ARE NOW UNPALATABLE. Except to babies. And heterosexual men. Other than that your breasts are definitely unpalatable.]
“…The equal protection clause does not demand that things that are different in fact be treated the same in law, nor that a government pretend there are no physiological differences between men and women.”
Yes, that’s right. They think having topfree equality means pretending there are no physiological differences between the sexes. Apparently no one has ever informed them that male and female breasts are actually made of pretty much the same exact tissue and parts, including mammary glands. And if you believe female breasts are different because they feed babies — well, that actually requires them to be exposed. But even beyond that point, this poorly written argument makes no sense!!!
This story is actually bigger than just the town of Ocean City, though. It’s also about the pending legal acceptance of topfree equality in Maryland and whether discriminatory topfree laws are unconstitutional.
As stated above, Maryland does not currently have any laws against women being topless in public. But as many people know, the absence of a law doesn’t mean that it’s accepted and that there won’t be arrests, charges, fines, etc.
As we discussed in our interview with her, activist Chelsea Covington has been establishing topfree rights in many places across the northeast by contacting police departments and local authorities beforehand. She has been very successful (her persistence helps) in getting official permission to be topfree in various parks, towns and cities (and thus permission for all women to do so in these places).
But… not when it came to Maryland. She has been communicating with legal authorities and trying for years to get them to state that female toplessness is legal. She has also gone topfree herself in Ocean City on many occasions, without incident.
Finally, last August the Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby made an opinion request to Maryland’s Attorney General. This opinion was supposed to be written up within 3 – 9 months, but here we are 10 months later and still no opinion.
When asked about this, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General told the Washington Post, “We will be drafting one, and I expect it to be released soon.”
What’s even more important and interesting is that this “opinion” is not really a question of whether or not female topfreedom is legal in MD. It is already pretty clear that it is legal. (For more details on the current MD laws and how they’re enforced, see this explanatory post on Chelsea’s blog.)
Chelsea recently reports on her blog that the opinion request was reworded at some point “to examine whether a local ordinance that treated genders differently would be unconstitutional.”
Like the one in Ocean City for example. The town actually wrote that they have passed this new ordinance “while awaiting AG opinion.”
So the AG’s office will effectively indicate how they think a local discriminatory topless ordinance case would play out in the highest courts of Maryland.
Chelsea has also pointed out: “Maryland’s constitution protects gender equality with the highest standard in the nation, namely with an ‘absolute prohibition’ on gender discrimination. This means there exists no justification for treating genders differently when making or enforcing the law. None.”
Let’s hope that now the AG will finally release their opinion in light of this Ocean City nonsense, and that it will be in favor of gender equality!
And as a side note, I’m glad to see how this OC issue has inspired opinion posts like this one: “If only lawmakers acted on bicyclist safety as quickly as they did beach nudity.”