You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Strip Naked At The Airport

Going through airport security just got a whole lot sexier.

An Oregon circuit court judge has held that stripping nude in protest at an airport is protected form of free speech.  So you all have our country’s founding fathers and the First Amendment to thank the next time you see a deluge of skin while you’re trudging through TSA lines.

The controversy started back in April when John E. Brennan was arrested by police after he shed his clothes while going through a security checkpoint at Portland International Airport.  Brennan claimed the action was to protest what he viewed as harassment from TSA screeners.  According to Brennan, he flies a lot for his work and was finally fed up with the constant security scrutiny.  Not surprisingly, the cops didn’t find his antics amusing.  They charged him with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure.

However, with the circuit court judge’s favorable ruling, Brennan’s actions seemed vindicated.  But is that such a good thing?

The prosecutor in Brennan’s case argued that establishing such a precedence would make trying defendants accused of indecent exposure needlessly difficult, if not impossible.

It’s a valid point to consider.  In essence, Brennan’s defense was that although he intentionally disrobed in a public place, he shouldn’t be guilty of indecent exposure because his was an act of public defiance, protected by the Constitution.  It’s no stretch of the imagination that anyone in the future who gets arrested for the same offense could claim the same defense Brennan did and win (at least in Oregon).  The line between public nudity being illegal or merely a legitimate form of protest certainly appears to be a murky one, indeed.

But don’t be so quick to come down against this ruling.  While it might initially seem like one that overly complicates what should be a simple prosecution, the court’s decision here actually helps better define indecent exposure under the law.

The reason is because indecent exposure actually carries an intent component under most state laws, Oregon included.  While most people may think that the crime only requires that someone flash their privates in public, to be found guilty under the vast majority of state laws the defendant actually has to do it with the intent to arouse him or herself.

This distinction is ultimately what led to Brennan’s finding of not guilty.  His defense was clearly able to show that his actions weren’t done for the purpose of seeking any sexual gratification, but rather that it was done simply to protest the TSA’s practices.  So in essence, the court’s ruling only cements the importance of the suspect’s intent.  And therefore, any real flashers who try to claim this wouldn’t be successful since their purpose would be to get their rocks off.

Of course, it also leaves open the possibility that a pervert might expose themselves under the guise of protest when in actuality their aim is more sexually devious.  It’s certainly a risk, but all legal defenses carry the same flaw.

For example, a person could kill another person with premeditation, but lie and claim it was done in self-defense.  If they’re believed, a murder charge could be reduced to manslaughter or complete exoneration.  The possibility of misuse is always there.  However, isn’t it better to leave open the possibility for a legitimate defense rather than foreclosing it completely and potentially doom innocent people to jail and/or fines?

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