CONCORD — After asserting their right to bare their breasts on the beach this summer, the champions of Free the Nipple will find themselves defending that freedom in the State House this winter.
Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) has filed legislation (House Bill 1525) that would make it a misdemeanor for a woman to purposely expose "the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts in a public place and in the presence of another person with reckless disregard for whether a reasonable person would be offended or alarmed by such act." His bill, which would amend RSA 645:1, "Public Indecency; Indecent Exposure and Lewdness," would not apply to the act of breast feeding.
Gallagher said yesterday that he was approached by constituents who were troubled by the thought of topless women at local beaches. Some women appeared topless at Hampton Beach last summer, and others indicated they would come to Weirs Beach. There was also an incident at the Gilford Town Beach at that time, where Heidi Lilley of the Free the Nipple campaign was arrested after a mother complained to police. Gallagher said that, after reviewing laws in other states, he found that the language in Arizona's laws would be best suited to New Hampshire.
Gallagher stressed that he has no intention of restricting or punishing private behavior in private settings. However, he insisted that in public places the conduct of individuals must be reconciled with the rights of others to share those same spaces without being offended or troubled. He said parents find it difficult to explain adult nudity to their children and are "entitled not to have an evolving standard imposed on them. If this kind of behavior is minimized," he asked, "what prevents it from taking place at a Little League game in June or a University of New Hampshire football game in September?"
Since cities and towns in New Hampshire have only the authority expressly granted to them by the state, Gallagher acknowledged that the beach regulation applied to Lilley in Gilford and the Laconia ordinance (Chapter 180) prohibiting women from exposing their breasts may not be enforceable without a state statute like he has proposed.
Meanwhile, Lilley, who will stand trial in Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division on Dec. 28, said yesterday she will testify against the bill, which she described as "unconstitutional." Free the Nipple contends that laws and ordinances that forbid women from displaying their breasts in public, but allow men to do so, violate the constitutional right of women to equal protection under the law by criminalizing the very state of being female. She explained that such prohibitions are based on the mistaken notion that the female breast is a sex organ, the display of which is indecent or lewd. Instead, she insisted "the woman's breast was created to feed a baby, not to be a sex organ."
Representatives George Hurt of Gilford and Peter Spanos of Laconia have co-sponsored Gallagher's bill.