A lawyer for Utah’s chapter of the ACLU asked Utah Judge Kara Pettit to rule that the state’s lewdness law violates the Constitution by treating women differently than men and thus violating the Equal Protection Clause. The statute makes it a crime to expose “the female breast below the top of the areola” in the presence of a child in a private place “under circumstances the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm.”
Tilli Buchanan, 27, faces imprisonment, fines and the requirement to register as a sex offender for 10 years if convicted of violating the law, which she certainly did. Buchanan and her husband had been installing drywall in the garage, and they had taken off their shirts that had become scratchy from the fibers, she told reporters. When her stepchildren, aged 9, 10 and 13, walked in, she “explained she considers herself a feminist and wanted to make a point that everybody should be fine with walking around their house or elsewhere with skin showing,” her lawyers wrote in court documents. Here’s Tilli…
Lawyer Leah Farrell of the ACLU says the law requires women to do a “mental calculation” about whether going topless would cause alarm. But men can go shirtless without violating the law and without making that calculation. “That really sets up an unequal and unfair dichotomy,” Farrell says.
Prosecutors say that Buchanan stripped in front of the children and was under the influence of alcohol at the time. They also claim she said she would put her shirt back on if her husband showed her his penis.
Tilli will go into the Ethics Alarms pool for the end of 2019 honor of “Asshole of The Year.,” or perhaps “Jerk of the Year.” I suspect she has a good chance of winning—the law suit, that is— if she presses the issue, which is also a good reason for the prosecutors to drop the charges, and for Utah to tone down or repeal the draconian law. There are some societal matters that are better handled by ethics than legislation, and this is certainly one of them.
Coincidentally, I happened to hear the opening number of “Fiddler on the Roof” this morning on the Sirius-XM Broadway channel. There are social norms and traditions that work well and make sense yet nonetheless cannot be persuasively or effectively reduced to law. It is far better to rely on citizens’ respect for others, sense of responsibility, and reasonableness. Unfortunately, there have always been people like Tilli Buchanan, whose narcissism, selfishness, and unethical instincts will lead them to try to challenge such norms just to cause trouble.
It is easy, though intellectually dishonest, to argue that Tilli is no different from the brave feminists who challenged restrictions on where women could work, or what they could wear, whether they could smoke, or run for office. Women who defied those norms had reason, justice and common sense on their side. Tilli’s rebellion is rebellion for its own sake, though she probably can’t see the distinction.
Society does regard a woman’s chest as materially different from a man’s chest, and has for centuries. I’m from Boston: we don’t think it’s particularly civil or dignified for either sex to go around bare-chested. For the most part, Americans can rely on their fellow citizens to confine their exhibitionism to the bedroom or the sensibilities of adults. Then there are the Tilli Buchanans among us, who want to tear down social norms, not really knowing what the consequences will be over the long term, just for the hell of it. In addition to being irresponsible and disrespectful, they are also lousy citizens.
They are not, however, criminals. She should be able to walk around naked in front of her children, just as we allow parents to engage in all sorts of other dubious practices. That she can doesn’t mean she should, but this is part of a long, long list where we must rely on ethics rather than law.
Pointer and Source: ABA Journal