Time and Place vis-a-vis Freedom of Expression

Much as it pains the civil libertarians, the First Amendment has been pretty well established by the courts to not be absolute, where freedom of speech is concerned. The broadest limitation is often referred to as “time and place” – you (probably) have the constitutional right to stand on a soapbox and orate against the President to your heart’s content… just not in the middle of a busy intersection during rush hour. And you (probably) have the constitutional right to stand on a soapbox in the park, and decry abortion providers – just not at one in the morning… or during a pro-choice rally.

And you can yell “Fire!” at the shooting range, but not so much at the movie theater.

In the sleepy little town of Moorhead, Minnesota, apparently there are “time and place” restrictions on freedom of expression now, too.

As this article describes, a 37-year-old woman was cited for indecent exposure after she walked into a drug store wearing “whipped cream and not much else”.

Kinky, non?

Except, she was wearing “much else”:

“…police say the 37-year-old Moorhead woman walked into the store about 5:45 p.m. Sunday wearing on a thong, pasties, a “partial” towel and whipped cream.”

Now, as near as I can tell a thong and pasties cover all the theoretically “naughty” bits of the female body, assuming you’re wearing them as they’re intended to be worn. Add in a towel and whipped cream, and more of her body was probably covered than if she was wearing a bikini.

So… how is that “obscene”, exactly? Has Moorhead banned bikinis, now?

No. Not as far as I can tell, anyway. As well as I can figure out, it’s a double-standard for freedom of expresion – the scantily-clad female form is fine at the beach, but in a drug store… not so much so, no.

I’m not super sure I’m 100% okay with that. Not because I necessarily think “free thinkers” who’ve mistaken food for clothing should be allowed to wander the aisles of stores (if Walgreens didn’t want her there, fine – “no shirt, no shoes, no service”, right?), but because this seems like a moderately retarded and legally questionable infringement of a very basic constitutional right.

If nothing else, you’d think law enforcement in the state might have learned after the recent settlement with the City of Minneapolis, who shelled out a fair bit of money to some street performers who were arrested – on terrorism charges, of all things – for lurching through downtown like zombies. Public strangeness != criminal activity.

…except, maybe, in Moorhead. Go figure.

Published in: General | on September 13th, 2010| Comments Off on Time and Place vis-a-vis Freedom of Expression

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