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Open letter to NJ Congressman, Frank Pallone addressing his uninformed response about Phoenix Feeley and women's topless equal rights
Dear Honorable Congressman Pallone,
My name is Nadine Gary, and I’m writing to you on behalf of GoTopless (www.gotopless.org), a U.S. women’s group devoted to obtaining our constitutional right to go topless in public wherever men have that right.
During Asbury Park's Night Out last week, you were asked by reporter Art Gallagher about GoTopless activist Phoenix Feeley, who is currently into Day 8 of the hunger strike she has begun as an inmate at the Monmouth County Jail. This brave woman has not only gone to jail, serving a 16 day sentence but stopped eating to protest discriminatory topless laws in New Jersey.
Ms. Feeley went through the N.J. court system to fight for her constitutional rights and she is now appealing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. We hope it will rule on this important gender equality issue that until now has been neglected at the federal level.
You were visibly taken back by the question about women's topless rights. In addition, the woman next to you, whom we assumed to be your political advisor, whispered to you in a very dismissive tone that the Feeley case is nothing but a simple matter of “indecent exposure.” With this statement, she proved herself woefully uninformed.
To the contrary, Feeley’s arrest for doing something men do without a second thought is a serious violation of the gender equality provision guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
International spiritual leader Rael, who founded GoTopless, explained topless gender equality this way: “If men have the right to go topless in public, then women must equally have that same right, or men should also be forced to hide their chests.”
The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment obviously applies to gender equality, just as it did when women sought the right to vote in 1920. Remember that in those days, it was considered “indecent” for women to even want to vote! Alice Paul, who by coincidence was born in New Jersey, dedicated her life to securing equal rights for all women and obtaining their right to vote. Today, Phoenix Feeley is dedicating her life to a different aspect of equal rights: topless rights.
Suffragette activists, like Phoenix Feeley and other topless activists today, willingly went to jail for claiming their rights. That is why our annual GoTopless Day protests have been held for the last 6 years on or near Aug 26, Women’s Equality Day.
To abide by the 14th Amendment, a number of states, such as New York in 1992 (as a result of The People vs. Santorelli), have already granted women the legal right to go publicly topless. New Jersey, along with all other U.S. states, is obligated to do the same.
That shouldn’t be difficult. Consider the excerpt below of a N.J. court statement from the case of Lewis vs. Harris (For your convenience, I have italicized a few things that are especially important.)
“Equality of treatment is a dominant theme of our laws and a central guarantee of our State Constitution, and fitting for a state with so diverse a population. The New Jersey Constitution not only stands apart from other state constitutions, but also may be a source of individual liberties more expansive than this conferred by the Federal Constitution....Indeed, we have not hesitated to find that our State Constitution provides our citizens with greater rights to privacy, free speech, and equal protection than those available under the United States Constitution... Ultimately, we have the responsibility of ensuring that every New Jersey citizen receives the full protection of our State Constitution."
Therefore, brandishing terms like “indecency” and “people’s moral sensibilities” to suppress women's topless rights is simply unconstitutional. The New Jersey case Gallagher vs. City of Bayonne shows that the New Jersey courts have repeatedly rejected attempts to enforce discriminatory statutes based solely on "moral sensibilities.”
Since the N.J. Supreme Court has refused to hear Ms. Feeley's case, her only recourse is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court so it can rule on this basic gender equality matter.
We hope the information in this letter will better prepare you to address this very important women's equal rights matter in the future.
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GoTopless protest at Monmouth County Jail this morning: the personal recount of a young activist
As Rael, founder of GoTopless reminds everyone, the right to go topless in public for women is solely a case of gender equality protected by the 14th amendment of the US Constitution. Note that and no "moral sensibilities" claim can override this Constitutional Equal Protection Clause.
"When I was given this protest assignment earlier this week, I first thought I was just going to "wing it" and see how it went. It's important to note that the leaders of GoTopless helped me "prepare" for this type of assignment by sending me Rael's speech about GoTopless and recommended watching the movie "Iron Jawed Angels." Rael's speech helped a lot and brought a lot of things into perspective. (see speech link below article)
I didn't watch the entire Iron Jawed Angels movie (about women's struggle for their equal right to vote in the 1900's) and saw snippets on youtube which were very helpful.
I've also never done a protest before and have rolled my eyes at protests I've seen in the past. It's a completely different story when you're involved in one yourself. When I rolled my eyes before, I now see how some people could have done that to me today. I also didn't know what to expect and made sure my dog would be taken care of if I were to get arrested. I even went as far as memorizing someone's phone # for the "1 phone call" you get when you're supposedly arrested-LOL! I haven't memorized a phone # since like 1997!
The important thing is that I was determined to do my best and let things take their natural course which was sort of liberating. I've always been the type to do what's safe and follow the crowd so this was very unusual for me.
I now think I've worked up enough courage to march in the go topless parade in NYC (Bryant Park) on the 25th. And that my friends, is a beautiful thing.
So, I went out this morning not knowing what to expect. I made sure to meditate last night & the last image in my mind as I drifted off to sleep was Phoenix's but I didn't sleep more than 2 hours. I think it was the anticipation and the unknown that kept my mind racing.
I wasn't nervous at all when I parked in the jail parking lot and I met with Sue (a local girl who wrote GoTopless when she heard the news) promptly at 8:30 am.
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GoTopless activist Phoenix Feeley enters Day 5 of hunger strike - GoTopless plans protest in front of Monmouth County Jail on Saturday
Nadine Gary, spokesperson for GoTopless, a national women's organization devoted to achieving equal topless rights for women, says Feeley has been transferred from her cell to the jail's infirmary.
"In spite of her diminished physical condition, she has continued with her refusal to pay the discriminatory court fines she was assessed during her court hearing," Gary said. "She was ordered by Municipal Judge Pappas to spend 16 days in jail."
Gary said GoTopless activists in New Jersey are protesting Feeley's incarceration and will picket the Monmouth County Jail on Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon.
"Ironically, Judge Pappas is the same judge who originally ruled against Phoenix Feeley for going topless at Spring Lake beach back in 2008," Gary said. "At the time, he declared vehemently that there would be no women going publicly topless in what he called 'his town'! That remark was of course in full violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
Gary went to explain that Feeley's fight to achieve topless rights for herself and other women is strictly a matter of gender equality.
"Since New Jersey men are allowed to go topless in public, then, constitutionally, so must women; or else, as spiritual leader Rael, founder of GoTopless noted, men must be also forced to wear something to hide their chests."
Gary emphasized that for authorities and politicians like Congressman Pallone to use terms like "indecency" and "people's moral sensibilities" to suppress women's topless rights is unconstitutional.
"The New Jersey case of Gallagher vs. City of Bayonne showed that the New Jersey courts have repeatedly rejected attempts to enforce discriminatory statutes based solely on so-called 'moral sensibilities,'" she said. "The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment obviously applies to gender equality, just as it did when women sought the right to vote in 1920."
She pointed out that before the 19th amendment was passed, it was considered "indecent" for women to even want to vote.
"Alice Paul, a woman born in New Jersey, dedicated her life to securing equal rights for women and obtaining their right to vote," Gary said. "Today, Phoenix Feeley is dedicating her life to a different aspect of equal rights: topless rights."
"Suffragette activists, like Phoenix Feeley and other topless activists today, willingly went to jail for claiming their rights. That's why our annual GoTopless Day protests have been held for the last 6 years on or near Aug 26, Women's Equality Day. This year, GoTopless Day will fall on August 25 in more than 40 cities across the United States and around the world."
Gary said that in order to abide by the 14th Amendment, a number of states, such as New York in 1992 (as a result of The People vs. Santorelli), have already granted women the legal right to go publicly topless.
"New Jersey, along with all other U.S. states, is obligated to do the same," she said."And since the N.J. Supreme Court has refused to hear Ms. Feeley's case, her only recourse is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court so it can rule on this basic gender equality matter. GoTopless is watching this case very closely, and we're determined to see that equal topless rights for women become guaranteed by federal law."