LACONIA — An attorney representing Heidi Lilley of the Free The Nipple – New Hampshire has asked the City Council and the police chief to change the local ordinance prohibiting women from publicly displaying the nipple portion of their breasts so it complies with state and federal laws.
Atty. Dan Hynes of Liberty Legal Services sent the written request to Police Chief Christopher Adams with a courtesy copy to the City Council Thursday in part to notify them that the Free The Nipple campaign and Lilley would be coming to Weirs Beach over the three-day Labor Day holiday and "they could be topless".
"I have advised them that they may be facing arrest or a citation, but that we will zealously defend their actions in court while taking other appropriate action," said Hynes.
He said the ordinance "is essentially criminalizing being a woman and violates women's constitutional rights to equal protection under the law."
Free the Nipple is targeting Laconia because it said to be the only municipality in the state which has an ordinance that exceeds state law in that it prohibits publicly exposing the female nipple.
Passed in 1998, largely because the city hosts Motorcycle Week, the ordinance also addresses people who encourage women to expose their entire breasts. According to local police, there have been a handful of citations issued annually in the past five years.
Hynes asserts that Chapter 180 also exceeds state law in that because New Hampshire is not a home-rule state, meaning that municipalities only have such powers as are expressly granted to them by the legislature, the law is not legal.
He also said the it violates the Natural Rights clause of the N.H. Constitution and the N.H. and U.S. Constitutions as violating free expression and equal rights under the 14th Amendment.
Lilley said she doesn't want the Labor Day Weekend event to become a spectacle. She said all that will happen as far as her group is concerned, is coming to beach, having a barbecue, suntanning and enjoying what she hopes is a sunny and warm Labor Day weekend.
Mayor Ed Engler said he has spoken to City Manager Scott Myers about the possibility of the campaign coming to Laconia before he knew the exact date. Though he has not spoken to Police Chief Chris Adams, he said enforcement of the ordinance is a police matter.
When asked if he supports the ordinance Engler said he has "home rule concerns about the validity of (it)."
"We are not a home-rule state and I think the legality of the ordinance should be looked into," he said. "To my knowledge, nobody has ever challenged the ordinance on a home rule basis."
Adams did not return The Daily Sun's phone call.
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