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Judge Rules Women Free To Bare Breasts To Get A Message Across

December 16, 1986

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ A state law that prohibits women from sunbathing topless is constitutional, but seven women who bared their breasts to protest the statute cannot be prosecuted under it, a city judge ruled.

City Court Judge Herman J. Walz ruled Monday that the protesters who called themselves the ″Topfree Seven″ were exercising their right of free speech when they removed their shirts in a park in June.

But the judge rejected the women’s contention that the state nudity law is unconstitutional because it forbids women, but not men, from going topless.

Walz said the law is not discriminatory on the basis of sex because community standards have determined women’s breasts to be an intimate part of the body.

The decision, which is not binding on Rochester’s other six city judges, apparently means women can take their shirts off to protest state law, but not simply to sunbathe or cool off in the summer sun.

The charges were scheduled to be dismissed formally in court today.

The June 21 protest was the first time the state’s nudity law was challenged on the grounds of sex discrimination. The seven women said they wanted to be arrested to challenge the state law in court.

Men were barred from going shirtless in public until the law was changed in 1936 after 42 men were arrested for going topless on a Long Island beach.

District Attorney Howard R. Relin said his office would appeal to Monroe County Court.

″I don’t see it as a realistic First Amendment protection,″ Relin said. ″It’s like males who are bottomless making the same claim. I don’t see that as a legitimate form of personal expression.″

Besides Santorelli, of Rochester, the other women charged with exposure of a person were Nikki Craft, a women’s rights advocate from Oshkosh, Wis.; Deborah Seymour, of Astoria, Ore.; and Mary Lou Schloss, Kathleen Reilly, Elise Jo Tooley and Lynn Zicari, all of Rochester.

In Boston, meanwhile, Ms. Craft and 10 other women sued the federal government over its decade-old nudity ban at the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Ms. Craft said the class-action lawsuit was filed because the government continually dropped charges after nude and topless women tried to challenge the law in criminal court following their arrests.

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