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Nudity ordinance a war on fun in Boulder, says ACLU

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Last night, the Boulder City Council passed a controversial nudity ordinance banning anyone over the age of ten from exposing their genitals in public -- a response to concerns about annual events such as the World Naked Bike Ride and the Naked Pumpkin Run, as well as the possible revival of the Boulder Mall Crawl.

Judd Golden, head of the Boulder branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, attended the council meeting last night, and he said none of those testifying during a public-comment section -- including Catharine Pierce, 52, who recently caused a stir by gardening topless near a school -- supported the regulation. However, Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner "said, 'When these incidents happen, we get calls from people wanting us to do something,'" Golden notes.

"That was the essence of the critical mass of the public wanting them to do this -- and there was every indication that there was overwhelming opposition," he continues. "But for council, apparently controlling people having fun was far more important."

The ordinance did not include provisions banning exposure of the female breast, which seemed possible at this time yesterday. But council members went ahead with the rest of the provision by a 6-3 vote despite the fact that a HB-1334, a measure dealing in part with public nudity, is working its way through the Colorado legislature right now. Golden feels supporters of the ordinance such as Beckner and Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett mischaracterized the bill by way of justifying council passage of its own rules.

Along the way, council member Ken Wilson, who'd earlier submitted a wacky list of possible nudity-related scenarios to the city manager's office (it's included in the agenda accessible by clicking here), talked about the ordinance as a way to prevent rioting in the city. To Golden, his arguments were highly suspect.

"He spent a very long time narrating the whole history of riots, none of which involved anyone taking off their clothes," he says. "To what end? I'm not sure. But he was a strong supporter of passing this, with a clear ulterior motive of using it as a tool to try to stop things like the Mall Crawl from happening again."

These contentions featured "incredibly flawed logic and reasoning based on unfounded fear in the total absence of any empirical or criminological evidence to support it," Golden believes. "It was, to me and others observing it, an embarrassing exercise of how a governing body should operate."

Golden emphasizes that he has a good relationship with both Beckner and Garnett. He spoke to them before the vote and afterward, "and they said, 'Oh, we really don't intend to enforce this unless people are causing trouble,' and talked about all the situations where they would exercise discretion. But the good intentions of our current police chief and district attorney could change on a dime in the next election cycle."

In the meantime, he goes on, "the city council has said that anyone, under any circumstances, who shows any part of their genitals in public must become a criminal. It doesn't matter if you're in a peace demonstration, it doesn't matter if you're sunbathing in your yard and someone sees you from a block away.

"I don't want to overstate this, but these are very draconian approaches to how a legislative body should work. Saying, 'Let's give the police more tools to control the populace,' well, that's a very disturbing trend."

In Golden's view, these tactics are all the more troubling given the motivations of the individuals in the crosshairs.

"Members talked at length about, 'These are people having fun, or doing innocuous things.' They weren't talking about people who were engaging in sexually predatory behavior. They wanted to target people having fun, people getting a suntan. Those are the people they want to make criminals. So now, I guess they are. You don't have to affront anyone. You don't have to alarm anyone in Boulder. You just have to be in a certain state of dress, or undress."

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