The city of Tulsa initially said Monday that it would adhere to a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling clearing the way for women to be topless in public.
Then Mayor G.T. Bynum received word that the state Attorney General’s Office had a different opinion of the ruling, and like that, the city changed its position.
“When the attorney general of the state of Oklahoma tells you that state law still applies, then I take that very seriously,” Bynum said. “So we will continue to enforce state law based on that guidance from the AG.”
In response to the federal court ruling, approximately 40 to 50 topless men and women participated in a Topless Trail Skate in Tulsa on Sunday evening.
The event was sponsored by Skate the 918 and was reportedly in support of the national “Free the Nipple” movement.
Bynum said he knew being mayor would come with challenges. But topless roller skaters? That one surprised him — and irked him.
“Honestly, I just thought, ‘I just want to fix our streets and make the city safer and bring great employers to Tulsa and great employees to Tulsa,’ ” the mayor said. “And this is not the kind of thing as mayor you wake up in the morning hoping that this is the issue that you will have to spend a bunch of time working on.
“But, unfortunately, you have some judges sitting in chambers making decisions that have the potential to impact cities all over the country. I was just annoyed this was something that we would have to spend time working on when I can list 100 things that are a better use of public employees’ time and taxpayer dollars.”
Attorney General Mike Hunter issued a press release Monday saying the 10th Circuit court ruling striking down a Colorado city’s ban on women going topless in public does not automatically invalidate Oklahoma state and local laws.
“The Tenth 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,” Hunter 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.”
Two women, Brittiany Hoagland and Samantha Six, sued the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, arguing that a ban there violated their equal protection rights. The city decided it would not appeal the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which upheld a previous federal court ruling in the women’s favor.
The 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma, and its rulings are binding on all federal district courts in those states.
The Oklahoma attorney general’s news release states that the 10th Circuit made a preliminary conclusion about the Fort Collins ordinance but did not ultimately decide the constitutionality of the law.
“Because the Fort Collins ordinance was repealed, the 10th Circuit’s ruling likely cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court,” the press release says. “In conclusion, the 10th Circuit’s ruling is not binding on Oklahoma state courts.”
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar ordinance in Springfield, Missouri, prohibiting women from exposing their breasts in public, the AG’s press release notes. In 2017, the 7th Circuit upheld a topless ban in Chicago, according to the AG’s Office.
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rulings are not binding outside the circuits in which they were issued.