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Women battle for topless equality

A group in Daytona Beach plans to bear their breasts to protest a law.

By Associated Press
Published March 7, 2004

ORLANDO - Two women are planning to lead a topless protest Sunday in Daytona Beach in spite of a federal judge's refusal to stop police officers from arresting them.

Shirley Mason and Elizabeth Book intend to march with other shirtless women and men for a half-mile on the last day of Bike Week, the annual gathering of motorcycle aficionados, their attorney said Saturday.

"The court did not rule that they can't have the protest, or if anyone is right or wrong," Lawrence Walters said.

Book and Mason sued the city and mayor in a pre-emptive move in federal court in Orlando on Friday, seeking a restraining order to prohibit police officers from arresting topless marchers.

The women believe it is unfair that only men are allowed to go topless in public places. Their lawsuit claimed they should be allowed to protest topless under the free speech, freedom to assemble and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell refused to grant the injunction because there wasn't time to hear from both sides, Walters said.

Messages left with Robert Brown, city attorney for Daytona Beach, and the police department were not immediately returned Saturday.

Daytona Beach officials have warned the planned protest violates city ordinances against public nudity, disorderly conduct and obstructing sidewalks.

The public nudity ordinance requires a "full and opaque covering" of the nipple and half of the outside surface of the breast. City manager Richard Quigley said in a letter to Book that "violations of laws or ordinances will be subjected to intervention by law enforcement."

Walters said the police officials he talked to are noncommittal about what might happen Sunday.

"My hope is that they're going to be reasonable out there," Walters said. "But they're keeping their options open.

Mason, executive director of the pro-nude beach Beaches Foundation Institute, has battled other government agencies over their topless policies. She is one of 10 women suing Brevard County over its anti-nudity ordinance.

[Last modified March 7, 2004, 01:35:55]

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