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Naked Bike Ride Protected by the First Amendment

Michael “Bobby” Hammond, 21, inspired by his recent participation in the annual World Naked Bike Ride — an event that protests against car culture, decided to take his vintage 10-speed bicycle for a spin through the streets of Portland, Oregon while wearing nothing but a bicycle helmet.

Portland Police were not amused. Mr. Hammond was arrested for indecent exposure under Portland, Or., City Code § 14.24.060, which states that “it is unlawful for any person to expose his or her genitalia while in a public place, or a place visible from a public place, if the place is open or available to persons of the opposite sex.” However, Mr. Hammond’s conduct was held to be protected speech, and the charges were dismissed.

A few weeks after he participated in the World Naked Bike Ride in Portland, he and a friend, Walter Geis, were dismayed at the amount of traffic in front of his house. He and Geis then stripped down and held their own small nude bike ride to “express a message in support of bikes and against cars, foreign oil, the Iraq war, and air pollution.” (source) The appropriately-named Multnomah County Judge Jerome LaBarre (you can’t make this stuff up) dismissed the inevitable charges that followed.

LaBarre said the city’s annual World Naked Bike Ride — in which as many as 1,200 people cycled through Northwest and downtown Portland on June 14 — has helped cement riding in the buff as a form of protest against cars and possibly even the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. (source)

Hammond’s assertion that his nakedness was protected First Amendment expression and therefore beyond the purview of the Oregon nudity ordinance drew support from Portland v. Gatewood, 76 Ore. App. 74 (Or. Ct. App. 1985). In that case, the Appellee argued that the language of Portland City Code § 14.24.060 was overbroad because it prohibited speech that is protected under Article I, Sect. 8 of the Oregon Constitution, a provision that is even more protective of free speech rights than the First Amendment. Under the ordinance’s plain language, nude protests or theatrical productions would be banned. The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the ordinance, but did so by interpreting it as containing implied constitutional safeguards.

We read the challenged ordinance as focusing on the goal of regulating conduct which the city council has determined to be injurious to health, safety and morals, i.e., the prohibition of public nudity or indecent exposure not intended as a protected symbolic or communicative act. Id. at 82.

The Gatewood court also held that “[t]he question of whether nudity in a particular case is a symbolic or communicative act is a question of fact.” Apparently, in Hammond’s case, Judge LaBarre determined that the facts supported Mr. Hammond’s position that he was engaged in symbolic political speech — thus the Ordinance (under the view expressed in Gatewood) did not apply.


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