John Brennan, Portland’s nude folk hero, was found not guilty of indecent exposure for his naked airport protest.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge David Rees ruled Wednesday that John Brennan’s act of stripping at the Portland Airport on April 17 while waiting in a TSA security line was one of protest, rather than one of indecency.
Nigel Duara of the Associated Press reports on one of Deputy District Attorney Joel Petersen’s arguments against Brennan’s assertion that his nudity was a protest:
The [indecent exposure] law says that naked people are only breaking the law if they’re having sex in public or got undressed “with the intent of arousing the sexual desire” of another person.
But if Brennan truly was acting in protest, [Deputy District Attorney Joel] Petersen asked, then couldn’t anyone be arrested while naked make the same claim?
“Any person naked for any purpose will be able to say it was protected speech,” Petersen said.
Portland would be an interesting test case for such a question. After all, this is the city with the World Naked Bike Ride, before which police simply send out a light admonition to “all riders at least wear a helmet and shoes.”
However, Brennan argued that his act was protected as a political statement:
As Brennan left the stand Wednesday, he said that his protest was also intended to give the TSA an idea of the effect its policies had on travelers, especially the body-scanners that produce images of passengers without clothes on.
“I wanted to show them it’s a two-way street,” he said. “I don’t like a naked picture of me being available… I was aware of the irony of removing my clothes to protect my privacy.”
Judge Rees 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,” Judge Rees said from the stand as he delivered the “not guilty” verdict.
Many Portlanders came out in support of Brennan during his trial, as OregonLive reports:
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.
Despite the ruling, Gawker reports that Brennan’s trouble is likely not over:
A spokeswoman for the TSA said Brennan was being “purposefully disruptive” and affecting its ability to “screen all passengers safely and efficiently.” Indeed, although he is free and clear of indecent exposure, Brennan could still be fined up to $11,000 if it is determined by the TSA that he interfered with the screening process. He also faces being put on the Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list.
What do you think about this ruling, readers? Share your thoughts in the comments!