Board bans nudity

Posted

Wednesday, December 5
BRATTLEBORO -- By a vote of 4-1, the Brattleboro Selectboard passed an ordinance prohibiting nudity in public areas of the town.

The ordinance has been under debate since the summer, when a handful of nudists decided it was OK to strut their stuff around town because there was no law preventing it.

Brattleboro is now the eighth town in Vermont to pass such a restriction.

The vote was preceded by nearly an hour of public comments by those both for and against the ordinance.

"People can't understand why this issue is about freedom," said Laura Austan, who said she opposed any type of ordinance prohibiting nudity. "This is a slap in the face of the progress we have made toward tolerance and the preservation of personal freedom."

Austan said the state's laws covering lewd and lascivious behavior and indecency were sufficient.

"I am sick of new laws," she said, which she called a "slow erosion of liberty and tradition. Part of the joy of Vermont is the tradition of a live and let live social conscience."

The ordinance was OK while it only dealt with nudity downtown, said Spoon Agave, but expanding it to include all of Brattleboro "entered the sphere of being ludicrous."

"I cherish the freedom you have here," said one woman, a visitor from New York state. "I would be very disappointed if Vermont become more restrictive than New York."

It's not all about personal freedom, said one Brattleboro resident.

"It is intolerant to force somebody against their will to be exposed to this," said Gary Gale.

One concern for many in attendance was what effect the new ordinance would have on the many skinny-dipping swimming holes in the area.

One Massachusetts woman, Virginia Shay, who said she represented an advocacy group for skinny dippers, said the board "may want to reconsider an ordinance that truly erodes the freedom and rights of Brattleboro residents.

She called the ordinance an "overzealous law" that may infringe on people's traditions.

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"If that location is likely to be observed by members of the public," said Bob Fisher, attorney for the town, "then it could be an area where this could be enforced."

But, he said, if this is a place with a history of skinny dipping, "chances are you are not going to have a problem."

Enforcement of the regulation will be up to the discretion of the police officer responding to a complaint, he added.

Others in the audience were concerned the town could be leaving itself wide open for a lawsuit because the ordinance prohibits women from baring their breasts but doesn't prohibit men from doing the same.

But Fisher has maintained during several board meetings that the courts have upheld similar ordinances around the country.

"There is no constitutional right of nudity," he said.

How would the law affect children running around naked on a summer day, asked Tim Wessel.

"With many things in this ordinance, the discretion of the officers is going to be utilized depending on the circumstances," said Fisher. If you have a 3-year-old running naked through a sprinkler, he said, he doubted the officer would write a ticket.

One local businessman said it was time for the Selectboard to pass the ordinance.

"This has been going on for quite a few months," said Bob Woodworth, owner of Burrows Specialized Sports on Main Street. "I believe we need to get this behind us and move on to other things."

He said the ordinance was a good one, allowing people to go naked on the river or in their backyards, but not in the public view.

"I was never in favor of an ordinance to begin with," said Dora Bouboulis, the only Selectboard member to vote against the ordinance. "We already have laws in place to cover the lewd and lascivious behavior of people who are doing things that are inappropriate."

Passing the ordinance could endanger the eccentricity that has come to define Brattleboro, she said, and could affect the town's reputation as an arts town.

Those found naked within public view could be subject to a $100 fine.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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