Breasts Not Bombs milks the CHP for false arrest and violation of Freedom of Speech
PEACE ACTIVIST'S BARE BREAST ARREST TURNS INTO FREEDOM OF SPEECH VICTORY IN SUPERIOR COURT
A Sacramento County Superior Court Judge ruled on Thursday, August 28, 2008, that Breasts Not Bombs anti-war activists, Sheba Love and Sherry Glaser, were unlawfully arrested by the California Highway Patrol when they protested topless at a 2005 peace demonstration on the Capitol steps in Sacramento. The court found that the protest was protected speech under the California Constitution and that the women were engaging in symbolic speech and not acting in a lewd or lascivious manner.
The anti-war protesters, men and women, had gathered on November 8, 2005, on the eve of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election. Breasts Not Bombs co-founders, Love and Glaser, in a definitive political act, removed their shirts and were completely topless at the protest. Officers of the California Highway Patrol immediately arrested the women for indecent exposure and committing a lewd act in a public place. If convicted, the women faced registering as sex offenders. Many of the protesters, including Love and Glaser, carried banners and signs expressing the difference between the natural decency of a woman's naked breasts, representing peace and the survival of the human race on one hand, and war, on the other. Their act and its attendant life-giving message was designed to sharply contrast with the obscenity of war, torture, invasion of privacy and other issues that protesters found were “indecent” on the pending ballot.
Breasts Not Bombs activists had previously staged bare-breasted peace demonstrations in other cities including San Francisco and Washington D.C. In front of the White House and had never been arrested. In fact, male members of the group were allowed to remove their shirts with no consequences as were other women who were told that if they had their aureoles covered they would not risk arrest. The CHP unsuccessfully argued that if female activists removed their tops it would disrupt business, offend children having lunch nearby as well as stimulate sex offenders recently released from custody who apparently frequent the Capitol grounds.
Judge Loren McMaster's decision was primer on free speech rights and repudiated the actions of the CHP and defendant Lt. Stallman who played a key role in setting up the arrest. Addressing the CHP's issuance of the permit to the group that had included restrictions on protesting topless, he noted that “The authority to grant permits does not include the authority to bar protected symbolic speech. California Constitution, Art. I, sec. 2” The court added, that “Here, the permit restriction's intent was to prevent plaintiff's from conveying their particular message. It was not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.” This was clear from the “Defendants rejection of a proposal by plaintiff's counsel that the demonstration occur in a tent.”
Glaser and Love were booked and detained at Sacramento County jail overnight and release the next day. The charges were then dismissed by the County district attorney. Yesterday, February 17th, Glaser, Love and their attorney received payment for damages.
A copy of the decision can be obtained from the Law Offices of Matthew Kumin
870 Market Street. Suite 1128 San Francisco, CA 94102