Federal judge rules for city of Springfield in "Free the Nipple" lawsuit

Published: Oct. 5, 2017 at 4:58 PM CDT
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A federal judge ruled for the city of Springfield upholding a law forcing you to keep your clothes on in public.

A group called Free the Nipple Springfield sued the city over an indecency ordinance passed by city leaders in 2015. The federal judge ruled, "the city has a legitimate interest in promoting decency and protecting morals by prohibiting public nudity, and this interest constitutes an important governmental objective."

The Free the Nipple group argued men could walk the streets of Springfield without shirts, but women could not. They even held a topless rally on the Springfield square.

The council later reverted back to an ordinance on the books against indecency. But the ACLU lawsuit continued.

"We'd agreed not to enact the September 2015th ordinance as it had been written. That was the one that had substantially more coverage area in the area of a woman's areola and her breast area. That was what kind of triggered the initial protests and started the whole chain of events," says Springfield's Assistant City Attorney, Tom Rykowski.

Protests erupted after former Springfield Councilmember Justin Burnett sponsored a bill calling for tighter restrictions against public nudity.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of two women who called for the laws to be fair for both men and women.

"Both sexes are covered under our indecency ordinance from the waist down. That's where the equal protection argument came in on this remaining count. That men can go completely topless, women have to have some degree of coverage," explains Rykowski.

After a battle in federal court, the judge sided with the city.

"We feel now that the court has said this is a constitutional, this is the appropriate limitation. It's very narrowly tailored, if you will, to allow a lot of freedom but there is still some modesty, I guess that council reflected in their decision," says Rykowski.

That doesn't mean a woman has to fully cover up.

"Basically under the current ordinance a woman will have to keep her areola covered under an opaque covering and outside of that they're free to be as exposed as they want," he says.

There are no plans to change this city law.

"The court has ruled that this is lawful and we think is reflective of the general community standards here in Springfield," explains Rykowski.

We did reach out to members of the Free the Nipple group. They are working with their lawyers on an official statement in response to the judgment.

They do plan to appeal the ruling and have 30 days to do that.

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