Wednesday, October 15, 2008

AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL


The Indiana Court of Appeals recently decided a case that, in my view, involves an important but infrequently debated aspect of personal liberty and freedom. See what you think.

The Case: June 10, 2006 was a warm late spring evening in Warrick County, Indiana. It was so nice, in fact, that Chad Weideman decided to step outside of his house to enjoy the evening breeze. Since it was already dark out, he decided to dispense with the formality of clothing, and he walked outside in the nude.

By all indications, Chad had no intention of being seen by anyone else that evening. There were no outside lights on. He was in a secluded part of his side yard, standing near a fence by his property line and enjoying the pleasant night.

Gerald Bowser lived next door to Chad. At about 8:45 p.m., Gerald and his girlfriend Patty came out to get into Gerald's truck that was parked on the street. Even though it was dark out, Gerald and Patty could sense someone standing by the fence as they got into the truck. Gerald then drove his truck up onto the sidewalk, causing his headlights to illuminate Chad.

Gerald and Patty saw Chad standing there naked, with a look of panic or surprise on his face. Chad immediately dropped and rolled into a nearby ditch and crawled on his hands and knees to the back of his property. Patty called the police, and Chad was charged with public nudity as a Class B misdemeanor. He was convicted in the Warrick Superior Court, and appealed.

The Statute: Indiana Code 35-45-4-1.5(c) provides: "a person who knowingly or intentionally appears in a public place in a state of nudity with the intent to be seen by another person commits a Class B misdemeanor."

"Nudity" is defined as: "the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple, or the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state." It's true, friends. I'm not making this up. Pitching a tent in public is illegal in Indiana.

Chad appealed his conviction on the basis that there was no evidence presented that he appeared nude in a "public place," that the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define what a public place is, and that there was no evidence presented that he had the intent to be seen by another person on the evening in question.

The Decision: The Indiana Court of Appeals decided the case on July 16, 2008. The court held that the statute is not void for vagueness, because a person of ordinary intelligence can understand its meaning. The court stated that the phrase "public place" is not vague, as it is commonly understood to mean a place that is available to all or a certain segment of the public. The court further held that, although Chad was not actually standing in a public place when he was seen by Gerald and Patty, he "appeared" nude in a public place because he was visible to persons in a public place.

The court did conclude that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chad had the specific intent to be seen while in a state of nudity. For that reason, the judges remanded the case to the Warrick Superior Court with instructions to reduce the judgment to a Class C misdemeanor and to resentence Chad.

My Opinion: I think that it was a stretch for the court to find that Chad appeared nude in a public place while he was in a dark and secluded area of his own yard. Still, it's hard to find major fault with the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the statutes. My problem lies with the statutes themselves. In my opinion, the law in Indiana pertaining to public nudity is outdated and draconian. It is a vestige of our puritanical past, and it needs to be modernized.

I have to ask: Why are we as a society so threatened by the showing of the human body? Who was Chad hurting? Was it necessary to prosecute him criminally for this incident? We tend to be so very narrow minded in our society, leading to unwarranted feelings of guilt and shame. Public breastfeeding has even come under fire recently.

Why are we so ashamed about our bodies? The Super Bowl incident involving Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction comes to mind. Why do we believe that children will be traumatized and irreparably harmed if they should happen to see a woman's breast, a person's buttocks or, heaven forbid, genitals? To the contrary, I think that the human form is something that should be celebrated. It should not be hidden at all costs as something deemed to be shameful and indecent.

Of course, I understand that I am way ahead of the curve on this subject. I first had this debate, literally, when I was in a debating class in high school. I could not, and cannot, understand why people find public nudity to be objectionable. I know that it is difficult for people to open their minds to a new way of thinking. The legislature in Indiana is conservative beyond compare, and I do not expect them to become enlightened anytime soon. But this is one area in which I wish that it would.

You may disagree, but I believe that this is an issue of personal liberty and freedom. I believe that, eventually, our society will realize that the human body is not something of which we should be frightened and ashamed.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole story make me suspect of the relationship between Chad and his neighbors. Surely there must have been some history of feuding for the law to be called over this. Anyhow, after reading this I feel strangely compelled to go outside and feel the breeze...
Jonathan

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you live in a neighborhood with neighbors close by, you have to forgo some individual rights, such as frolicking around the yard with your meatbe hanging out. Its no different than if I wanted to sit out in my yard with my stereo blaring at all hours of the night. One has to be respectful of the rights of those who live around you NOT to be subjected to individual choices which vary from societal norms.

In short, if you want to mow the yard in the nude, I have no trouble with that. Just buy some land out in starlight where you can prance around all day without being seen.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Meatbe said...

Jonathan: I agree that there must have been some bad blood there...Or else Chad had the bad fortune to have some very prudish neighbors.

Anonymous: I don't think that the stereo analogy works. If a home owner is playing loud music at all hours, that clearly interferes with the ability of the neighbors to enjoy their property. On the other hand, the fact that a person is nude in his or her own yard does not in any way interfere with or disturb the peace of others.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does being nude in one's yard not disturb neighbors who might not want to see such things? Are you suggesting that if I dont want to see my naked neighbor, I need to restrain my eyes to other directions? How is that not restricting my own use of my property?

6:32 AM  
Blogger Meatbe said...

There are many things that you might not want to see in your neighbor's yard. I don't like to see pink flamingos, garish holiday decorations, spare tires, political yard signs or people playing corn hole. If I don't want to see such things, I must avert my eyes. I cannot keep people from enjoying these things in their own yards just because I find them to be objectionable. And the fact that I have to avert my eyes to avoid seeing these things does not in any way legally interfere with my own quiet use and enjoyment of my property.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed when I read this. Gerald is my uncle and I remember him telling this story. There's no bad blood between him and the nude neighbor. The guy was standing naked in his FRONT yard! If you thought you saw someone in your yard and it was dark, wouldn't you shine some light that way to see what exactly you thought you saw?? The neighbor is a weird cookie and does weird things. They called the cops because they were shocked and wanted to know what the hell he was doing naked in his front yard. LOL By the way, if he didn't want anyone to see him, why didn't he go inside when he saw my uncle come outside? Better yet, if he really needed to "be free" why didn't he just go into his BACK yard?? I'm glad I don't live there!

9:26 PM  
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1:22 AM  

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