Town nixes downtown shirtless prohibition
— Although the weather may be getting cooler, men can still feel free to doff their tops while walking around downtown.
After doing some research, Mayor Rob Alt and the town board have decided not to pursue an ordinance prohibiting male toplessness from the downtown area, citing potential legal issues such a law would create.
“I would not put us in a position that would end up putting us in litigation, knowing what I know now,” Alt said on Wednesday.
Alt first floated the idea for such an ordinance in July and asked town attorney John Downs to investigate whether the town could ban shirtless men
from the business district, which he described as one that is served by public sidewalks and features businesses. Men walking around without a shirt is bad for business and presents a bad town image, Alt said, noting that several residents had brought up the issue to him as well.
Alt’s idea for the ordinance would not have pertained to those exercising or engaging in recreational activities on public property nor those on private property. Those who are caught would have been given a written warning followed by written citations for subsequent offenses without jail time.
But following a discussion with Downs and the town board, Alt said Wednesday that the town has no plans to move forward with drafting such an ordinance. Downes researched how the issue is handled in other places as well as relevant court cases.
Downs found that some towns used broad language, others have used more concise and clear language, and others have not touched the subject. Downs presented the town with a case from Palm Beach, Fla., which dealt with prohibition of all toplessness and was challenged by a male jogger who was cited by town police. After appeals on both sides, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Court found the law to be unconstitutional.
Downs also found another case focused on a New York couple who challenged a law requiring “customary street attire” in 1937. The Court of Appeals of New York also overturned their conviction on constitutional grounds, citing a vagueness of its description.
Easton also has a topless prohibition on the books and has enforced it in varying degrees in recent years, usually drawing media interest when it does.
“It’s always a balance between individual expression and personal freedom and the town’s legitimate interest in regulating some decorum in the town,” Downs said, citing cases such as the two he found. “That sort of seems to be on each end of the spectrum and how each town addresses that is up to the town.”
Alt said the town doesn’t want to violate anyone’s First Amendment right to express themselves.
“We would never want to step on anyone’s civil rights,” Alt said. “That was never our intent.”
Alt said if a private organization holds an event on town property and has a dress code, the organization can enforce their dress regulations. He also said businesses can also enforce a dress code, with signs such as “No shirt, no shoes, no ser vice.”
The Elkton Town Board of Commissioners has decided to not move forward with an ordinance to mandate people wear shirts within town limits.