Extreme Limits of Protected Speech for “Symbolic” Nudity?


By: Sun Choy
A Portland judge recently ruled that a man who stripped naked at an airport to protest TSA screening is not guilty of indecent exposure charges, because “symbolic” nudity is protected free speech under Oregon law.  As reported by The Portland Mercury, “the judge determined that [the defendant’s] derobing was a legitimate protest.”  I question whether such conduct is protected speech under federal law, because public nudity is generally not protected under the First Amendment.  With the acquittal, however, I would not be surprised if the man pursued a civil claim against the arresting officer(s).  While the sensational nature of the case grabbed national headlines, it should serve as a reminder that law enforcement officers need to carefully consider whether the First Amendment protection of free speech is implicated before making an arrest.