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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE A proposal to enhance the city’s indecent exposure ordinance is scheduled for a first reading at the regular City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 24. Councilman Justin Burnett asked the City’s law department to draft language similar to the ordinance in place in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Springfield’s current indecent exposure ordinance does not permit nudity and requires women to cover their nipples and areolas when in public. Burnett’s request for stricter language would require women to cover their breasts from the top of the areola down. Burnett requested the changes after a protest rally in Park Central Square Friday, Aug. 7. Local media reported that about 60 participants legally gathered in the square without shirts on, covering their nipples and areolas with tape to “protest gender inequality.” The rally was a local version of a national movement called “Free the Nipple.” “The essence of the complaints received by Council and City staff are that the opponents of our current ordinance were offended by the protesters appearing "semi-nude,” explains Dan Wichmer, City Attorney. Wichmer emphasizes that even with an enhancement to the ordinance, however, it would not change the protesters' ability to gather and protest exactly as they did on Aug. 7. “The act of appearing as the protesters did was ‘free speech,’ and it occurred in a traditional public forum as part of an organized demonstration/rally,” Wichmer explained. “While some citizens may think that the City has the ability to prohibit the way in which the protesters are attired for events such as this, the First Amendment would protect such activity in a traditional public forum.” Chicago had an indecent exposure law identical Springfield’s proposed enhanced ordinance, and it was recently held unconstitutional as applied to the "Free the Nipple" rally there. The basis for the court's decision, Wichmer said, was that the City of Chicago could show no evidence of harm to the community that justified the upholding of application of its indecent exposure ordinance in that specific case. There are hundreds of cases that define what types of conduct and expression are protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The cases all start by defining where the speech or expression takes place. If the location of the activity is a "traditional public forum,” then the government must have a "compelling governmental interest in regulating the speech, the regulation must be narrowly tailored to serve that purpose and the regulation must also leave open ample alternative opportunities to convey the message." Traditional public forums are "places which by long tradition or by government order are devoted to assembly and debate.” Springfield City Council in 2000 formally recognized that the Square has served as "the hub of civic activities and other events since the City was founded in the 1830's." Thus, by definition, the Square is our traditional public forum, Wichmer concluded. ### For more information, contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement at 417-380-3352 or [email protected] or Dan Wichmer, City Attorney, at 417-864-1558 or [email protected]