Afraid of Naked: Ocean City Adopts Emergency Ordinance Banning Toplessness

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Photo via Town of Ocean City

Threatened by the possibility of women parading topless around Ocean City this summer, the seaside town’s council passed an ordinance this weekend restoring the status quo.

Last week, the Ocean City Beach Patrol instructed its officers in a memo to document, but not approach female beachgoers who expose their upper half. The change stemmed from an unresolved request for a legal review from Eastern Shore activist Chelsea Covington, who lobbies for governments to let women bare their breasts in public.

Covington, who argues unlimited female toplessness is permitted under state equal protection laws, filed her request last fall. What seemed like it would be an easily explained query to authorities turned out to be more complicated. Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby wrote in a letter that he found the wording of local laws on indecent exposure and disturbing the peace to be “a little vague,” and couldn’t find a court case as precedent to prove his point.

Oglesby asked Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to advise on the matter. Frosh, however, hasn’t provided any clarification.

With news spreading like wildfire last week that Ocean City might become a topless beach this summer, government officials put their collective foot down. The Ocean City Council met on Saturday and passed an emergency ordinance that says clearly, “there is no constitutional right for an individual to appear in public nude or in a state of nudity. Whatever personal right one has to be nude or in a state of nudity that right becomes subject to government interest and regulation when one seeks to exercise it in public.”

Under the new policy, cops can go back to telling women to cover their chests. A violation is subject to up to a $1,000 fine.

Covington has crafted her argument on the basic premise that women have a constitutional right to go shirtless, just as men can. The council attempted to address that point in the new law.

“Equal protection clause does not demand that things that are different in fact be treated the same in law, nor that a government pretend there are no physiological differences between men and women,” the new legislation says.

Six-term Mayor Rick Meehan said in a statement on Friday, “While we respect Ms. Covington’s desire to express what rights she believes she may have, Ocean City is a family resort and we intend to do whatever is within our ability to also protect the rights of those families that visit us each year.”

Attorney General Frosh has understandably stayed far from the public debate over whether to let breasts show publicly in Ocean City. He’s been busy with other matters, like suing our sitting president for reaping profits from foreign governments while in office, for instance. But, when he does have the time, the Town of Ocean City “is still anxiously awaiting” his opinion, the government said Friday.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Associate Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan is Baltimore Fishbowl's associate editor. He previously covered Baltimore-area news as a web producer for Fox45/WBFF-TV. Before arriving in Baltimore, he worked as an assistant editor for CQ Researcher in Washington D.C., and a reporter for Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. Look for his freelance bylines in Baltimore City Paper and DCist.
Ethan McLeod
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