Sunday, July 22, 2012

Portland, Oregon man strips naked to protest airport security--and wins his case in court

As reported by Aimee Green of the Portland newspaper The Oregonian, July 18, 2012:

Portland is buffing its image as Naked City USA with the latest nudity case to grab national headlines...

...a Multnomah County judge Wednesday acquitted 50-year-old John E. Brennan of an indecent exposure charge after he stripped naked at Portland International Airport.

Brennan's friends packed into the courtroom and erupted in applause and cheers upon hearing the verdict. As they filed into the hallway, they heartily embraced a smiling Brennan.

One friend stuck a sticky note on Brennan's chest. It read: "Sir Godiva" -- a reference to the legend of a noblewoman who rode naked on a horse through the streets of England to protest oppressive taxation.

Brennan famously shed all his clothes April 17 at an airport security checkpoint. It was 5:30 p.m. and gawkers didn't hesitate to take smart phone photos and offer them up to the media as Brennan stood for about five minutes before police arrived.

During a two-hour trial, Brennan testified that he undressed because he was fed up with what he sees as invasive Transportation Security Administration procedures -- including body scans and pat downs.

Prosecutors charged Brennan with violating a city ordinance that forbids people from exposing their genitalia in public and in the presence of the opposite sex.

The judge sided with the defense, which cited a 1985 Oregon Court of Appeals ruling stating that nudity laws don't apply in cases of protest.

"It is the speech itself that the state is seeking to punish, and that it cannot do," Circuit Judge David Rees said.

Once again, the news quickly spread far and wide: USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and CNN were among websites featuring the story in their feeds.

Brennan, a high-tech consultant, showed up to court wearing a baby-blue button-up shirt and chocolate-colored slacks. He testified that he was starting a business trip to San Jose, Calif., when he declined to step into one of the TSA's body scanners. Screeners then asked him to step through a metal detector and submit to a pat down.

The screener tested his gloves used in the pat down, and a machine indicated the presence of nitrates, presumably picked up from Brennan's clothes.

Brennan said it was then he knew he was in trouble -- not because he was part of any sinister plot to blow up a plane, but because he would have to wait a long time for TSA to sort out the mix-up and he could get to his gate.

Brennan then calmly disrobed -- a convenient way to show the TSA that he wasn't carrying any explosives, he said.

"I also was aware of the irony of taking off my clothes to protect my privacy," he said.

Brennan said he told authorities that he was doing so in protest, although a screener and a Port of Portland police officer testified it wasn't until police arrived that Brennan made that claim.

Brennan said he wanted to show the TSA "that I know my rights. That you have these machines that can see us naked. ... They're getting as close to seeing us naked as they can. And we are upping the ante."

Deputy District Attorney Joel Petersen argued that Brennan only spoke of a protest minutes later. Petersen urged the judge to recognize that distinction, "otherwise any other person who is ever naked will be able to state after the fact" that it was done in protest.

The city ordinance states that the crime is a misdemeanor. Prosecutors decided to downgrade Brennan's criminal charge to a violation, similar to a traffic ticket. If he had been convicted, he likely would have had to pay a fine.

In Portland, the verdict seems in keeping with the city's posture as a bastion of free expression.
Now that a legal precedent has been established, perhaps increasing numbers of Americans should strip as a means of protest. I suggest that the movement should be led by those with the ugliest bodies; the resulting revulsion might prompt authorities to be less intrusive.

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