Apparantly, some rascally teens in Brattleboro have started walking around in the buff this summer. And the bset part of it is that public nudity in the town is only illegal if it's done to arouse sexual gratification.
All the nudity has set up a first ammendment rights fight between the town and the naked teens.
When the weather grew hot this year, a couple of dozen teens took to holding hula hoop contests, riding bikes and parading past the shops wearing only their birthday suits.The whole problem with first ammendment controversies is that a person's right to self expression must be balanced with another's right to not participate in that expression. For example, adults have the right to rent a pornographic movie, but these movies are situated in a location where someone looking for the latest Disney flick isn't going to run across it. It's also the same reason groups like the KKK are protected under law to stage a rally, so long as they do so non-violently. Likewise, certain forms of expression have been outlawed because of the harm to others. You cannot yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. Protesters at an abortion clinic cannot physically bar entrance to the clinic.
Nobody, including the police, seemed to take offense until one local, Theresa Toney, went before the town government in August to complain about a group of youngsters naked in a parking lot.
"The parking lot is not a strip club," she said. "What about children seeing this?"
Town officials asked their attorney to draft an ordinance to ban such displays for the Select Board to vote on in September. When the teens heard about it, some staged a nude sit-in.
Given the teens' comments, they don't understand this.
"I don't see why it's such a big deal," said Alec McPherson, a recent high school graduate as he sat at a coffee shop table, browsing a thick volume of artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Everyone's naked in this book."Personally, I don't have a problem with nudity. I know what the human body looks like. I'm also under the impression that everybody looks silly completely naked. No matter how attractive that person may be, there's going to be dangly bits hanging out, things flopping, a little jiggling, and possibly some hairy bits. I find it amusing. The teens are obviously going for the shock value. That's fine.
His companion, Jeremiah Compton, a high school junior who plays in a local metal-and-punk band, agreed. "It's just that we're bored and expressing our right," he said.
"We have a nuclear power plant a few miles away and a ridiculous war in the Middle East, countries getting bombed," said Ian Bigelow, a 23-year-old who had gathered with some of his friends outside a bookstore. "So why's it such a big problem if we chose to get nude?"
What's troubling is that someone who didn't want to see naked people was forced to view them. The argument 'she doesn't have to look' doesn't hold in this case. If the teens are walking around all over town, then the woman has no idea where they will be so she can avoid them. In the pornography example I used, you still have the right to rent the porno, but that does not mean that everyone has to go beyond the little curtain at the video store. How this will pan out in the town ordinance could be amusing. They could have a designated nude district or a special naked day.
I question my liberalism when I begin to think about cases like this. The teens are just having a little rebellious fun, not really harming anybody. Am I the old stodgy who tells them they're wrong? The problem I have is the carelessness with which the first ammendment gets thrown around. When you wield your rights, you must take responsibility to not harm others in the process.