/ November 18, 2008

Naked Bicycling Ruled Protected Speech in Portland

A Portland man was cleared of indecent exposure charges last Wednesday.   Michael “Bobby” Hammond, 21, was participating in Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride (1200 people took part this June 14), a clothing optional event where riders look to make the point that only the human body is necessary to power a bicycle.

He was charged with resisting arrest, fourth-degree assault, and indecent exposure.  At trial, he testified that he was supporting the use of bicycles and protesting cars, foreign oil, and air pollution.  The District Attorney argued that, beyond Hammond’s nakedness, there was no indication that he was protesting anything at all.  He also expressed concern that, in the future, anyone “streaking” could merely claim he was protesting and that allowing naked biking here effectively invalidated state law.
Multnomah County Judge Jerome LaBarre ruled that naked cycling is tradition in Portland and that it is an accepted form of symbolic protest.  There is precedent here.  In 1985, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that appearing nude in public can be a protected form of speech…as long as speech is evaluated on a case by case basis.  The judge in Hammond’s case stated that the shock value of nudity can be a very important means of protest.  To strengthen his point, he cited to the story of Lady Godiva, a noblewoman who rode naked through the streets of Coventry, England to protest the unfair taxation practices of her husband, the Earl of Mercia.  
Read the 1985 Oregon Opinion on Fastcase: here.

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