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'Go Topless' Day at the Seventh Circuit

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019
Some cases naturally get more attention than others, like the 'Go Topless' case.

It started in 2014 when Sonoku Tagami celebrated "GoTopless Day" by walking half-naked around Chicago. She wore nothing over breasts but body paint, and received a $100 fine for violating a public nudity law.

The case could have ended there, but the woman sued, saying she has a right to bare her breasts in public. Now the case is back in the news, and one appeals court judge agrees with her.

Political Message?

In Tagami v. City of Chicago, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals turned down her First Amendment claim. The divided panel said she was not communicating a political message by going topless.

Judge Diane Sykes, writing for the majority, also rejected Tagami's claim that the law discriminated against women.

"The ordinance treats men and women alike by equally prohibiting the public exposure of the male and female body parts that are conventionally considered to be intimate, erogenous, and private," she said. "The list of intimate body parts is longer for women than men, but that's wholly attributable to the basic physiological differences between the sexes."

Judge Rovener's Dissent

The decision follows U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding similar laws against public nudity, but the Seventh Circuit opinion is remarkable for its dissent. Judge Illana Rovener said "Tagami engaged in the paradigm of First Amendment speech."

"Tagami was not sunbathing topless to even her tan lines, swinging topless on a light post to earn money, streaking across a football field to appear on television, or even nursing a baby (conduct that is exempted from the reach of the ordinance )," Rovener wrote.

The judge said Tagami had one purpose -- to protest the city's ordinance on indecent exposure. Rovener also said the ordinance treated women differently than men by sexualizing the female form.

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