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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hooray for Symbolic Nudity!

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 11:44 AM

John Brennan, upon hearing his not guilty verdict, by lovely courtroom artist Carolyn Main
  • John Brennan, upon hearing his "not guilty" verdict, by lovely courtroom artist Carolyn Main

Yesterday's trial of Naked American Hero John Brennan on charges of indecent exposure for stripping naked at a Portland airport security station is a clear and definite victory for Oregon's free speech laws.

I think Oregon's protections of nudity as free speech should be a model for the rest of the country, but even places such as California ban nudity on a city-by-city basis. It seems to me that our laws around nudity work well to allow effective (and hilarious) protests like Brennan's, but haven't created a nudity spree that the authors of other states' laws probably fear.

I spelled out Oregon's laws yesterday, but here's the simple version: Our constitution states that "no law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion." While Portland and other cities have local laws banning public nudity, Brennan's is the latest in several court cases that uphold the idea that Portland's obscenity law doesn't apply when the nudity is meant symbolically as a form of protest.

The prosecution raised a decent point during yesterday's trial: What's to keep anyone arrested for indecent exposure from getting off the hook by declaring after the fact that the dong-waggling was actually a protest? But that's exactly what the role of judges and juries is—to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the person's de-briefing is actually a protest or a meaningless obscene display. This case reinforces that Oregon's law and courts are working the way they should. As Brennan said yesterday, "I was aware of the irony of taking off my clothes to protect my privacy."

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