Attorney General Mike Hunter today released the following statement on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding public nudity.
The ruling from the court addressed a Fort Collins, Colo. city ordinance that prohibited women from going topless in public, after two women sued the city in 2016, arguing that the rule violated their equal protection rights.
The 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases from Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Attorney General Hunter advises that the ruling does not automatically invalidate local and state laws in Oklahoma.
"The Tenth Circuit’s preliminary decision in the Fort Collins case – a case that has now ended without a full adjudication – does not change local and state laws in Oklahoma on the subject,” Attorney General Hunter said. “The majority of courts around the country that have examined this issue have upheld traditional public decency and public nudity laws. These courts have recognized that states and political subdivisions have a legitimate interest in prohibiting public nudity as traditionally defined."
The 10th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with a May ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld an ordinance in Springfield, MO that bans women from exposing their breasts in public. Also, a 2017 ruling in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a topless ban on women in Chicago.
In that ruling, the 7th Circuit relied on a U.S. Supreme Court case upholding laws prohibiting nude dancing stating that “public indecency statutes were designed to protect morals and public order” and local communities may express “societal disapproval of nudity in public places and among strangers.”
The U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the 7th Circuit’s decision upholding Chicago’s public nudity laws.
Similar rulings upholding the constitutionality of public nudity laws have been issued by 2nd, 4th and 5th Circuits, as well as courts in New Hampshire, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Alabama, Arizona, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Mississippi, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Minnesota.
The 10th Circuit’s ruling made preliminary conclusions about the Fort Collins ordinance, but did not decide the law’s ultimate constitutionality. Because the Fort Collins ordinance was repealed, the 10th Circuit’s ruling likely cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In conclusion, the 10th Circuit’s ruling is not binding on Oklahoma state courts.