TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — In a discrimination case specific to Fort Collins, Colorado, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that if men can go topless in public, so can women. But women who bare their breasts in public may still be cited in Cherokee County.
A group of women, Free the Nipple activists, argued it was unconstitutional to allow men to walk around bare-chested, but not women - and the Court of Appeals agreed. The ruling ostensibly also affects Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, New Mexico, and Utah.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter doesn't agree with ruling and said the state law on public decency will still be enforced.
"The 10th Circuit's preliminary decision in the Fort Collins case, a case that has now ended without a full adjudication, does not change local and state laws in Oklahoma on the subject," he said. "The majority of courts around the country that have examined this issue have upheld traditional public decency and public nudity laws. These courts have recognized that states and political subdivisions have a legitimate interest in prohibiting public nudity as traditionally defined."
Police Chief Nate King has said the Tahlequah Police Department will continue to enforce the ordinance, unless it changes.
"TPD will follow he opinion issued by our attorney general and enforce the laws of the state of Oklahoma. If and when the laws involving indecent exposure and/or outraging public decency change, we will adjust accordingly," King said.
Brent T. Been spends a lot of his time on the Illinois River and said it's an environment that he doesn't see issue with women being topless.
Grand River Dam Authority officials said they are on the same page as most law enforcement agencies.
"We appreciate this issue may have interest for visitors to Grand and Hudson lakes and the Illinois River. The GRDA Police Department will adhere to the opinion of the Oklahoma attorney general and continue to enforce Oklahoma's public decency laws on our lakes and rivers," said Justin Alberty, vice president of corporation communications.
Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said the sheriff's office will continue to enforce public decency laws as well. He said it's still illegal, but he hasn't had to make an arrest in over 10-12 years for anyone who went topless.
The Tahlequah Daily Press asked readers during an Oct. 5 Saturday Forum on Facebook whether both women and men should be allowed to go topless, or if neither be allowed. The question continued: "Would you say, as some have, that women have 'sexualized' female mammary glands by getting breast augmentations? Would you perhaps be OK with toplessness at, say, beaches and lakes and rivers, but not in public parks? If you're a women, would you go topless in public? If you're a man, would you want your wife or daughter to do so? Why or why not?"
Some comments focused on how morals and values played a role in whether a woman would go topless. But does that mean men have lower or no morals or values if he chooses to go topless?
Olga Hoenes said it's not morally proper, and "idiots" will act on it when women draw attention to themselves.
Leah Whelan argued that just because a woman is wearing revealing clothing, she is not "asking for it." Roy Rouell also said perpetrators are going to do what they are going to do, regardless of how covered or uncovered their victims are.
"Women shouldn't have to cover up because men can't control themselves. If men can't stop themselves from sexually harassing women, maybe they shouldn't go outside," said Whelan.
Michael Cummings agreed that the laws should always be gender-neutral.
"It makes no logical or moral sense to prosecute a woman for the exact same thing that I, as a man, can legally do, simply because she is a woman," he said. "My question is, will Tahlequah change its ordinance to be in line with the 10th or will Tahlequah PD still enforce the ordinance until someone sues the department and the city?"
TDP also asked its readers in a website poll whether women should be allowed to go topless in public in Oklahoma. Thirty-five said absolutely not, under any circumstances, whereas 29 said they should, but only in any venue at which men are permitted to go shirtless. Twenty-four said no, only at private events, and/or if the woman is nursing a baby, and 20 said yes, absolutely - in any venue. Nine said they should be able to, but only in certain places, such as beaches and wherever swimsuits are normally worn.
The ruling has raised concerns as to why it's acceptable for men to be topless in public, but not women.
On Wednesday, Sand Springs released a statement that the city is now banning all adults from being topless in public.
"The effect of these modifications is that the act of being topless may be unlawful for people, regardless of their sex," said the release.
Calls or emails were not returned from Cherokee Nation Marshal Service or Northeastern State University Police Department by press time.
To see more of the 300-plus comments on the subjects of toplessness in Cherokee County, go to www.facebook.com/tdpress and scroll down to the Oct. 5 Saturday Forum.