New Hampshire’s highest court has upheld the conviction of three women who were detained for going topless on a beach, finding their legal rights were not violated. In a 3-2 ruling, the court decided that an offensive disclosure law in the New Hampshire city of Laconia does not discriminate on the basis of gender or violate the women’s right to free speech.
Associate justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi reacted to the verdict and wrote that courts “generally upheld laws that prohibit women but not men from exposing their breasts against equal protection challenges. We have found that the ordinance does not violate the defendants’ constitutional rights to equal protection or freedom of speech under the State and Federal Constitutions. As such, it does not unduly restrict the defendants’ fundamental rights. Accordingly, we agree with the trial court that the City had the authority to enact the ordinance.”Associate Justice James P. Bassett with senior associate Justice Gary E. Hicks also expresses their opinion and thinks the ordinance was unconstitutional because it treats men and women differently. Participants of Free the Nipple campaign, Heidi Lilley, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro advocating for the rights of women to go topless. They were arrested in 2016 after removing their tops at a beach in Laconia and refusing to put them on when beachgoers complained.
The Laconia law on offensive exposure bans sex and nudity in public, but singles out women by prohibiting the “showing of female breast with less than a fully solid covering of any part of the nipple”. A lower court judge refused to dismiss the case, and the women appealed to the state supreme court. the women’s lawyer, Dan Hynes, said in a statement that“We are extremely disappointed in the Court’s ruling that treating women differently than men. Since the N.H. Constitution, which prohibits sex discrimination, was not enough to avoid this unequal, and unfair treatment, we are hopeful the New Hampshire administration steps up to correct this injustice by outlawing Laconia’s ordinance.” Hynes also added that he would have to talk to the women about their next step, including possibly appealing the ruling to the US Supreme Court. Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director at the ACLU of New Hampshire also disappointed with the ruling. The ruling is the latest setback for the “Free the Nipple” movement.
> Alma Siddiqua
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