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Oral arguments set for Wednesday lawsuit against Ocean City for ordinance prohibiting women from going bare-breasted on beaches

The plaintiffs are a group of five women engaged in a legal battle with Ocean City over the legality of "Emergency Ordinance 2017-10."
Credit: FOX43

OCEAN CITY, Md. — A panel of judges with the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit will hear oral arguments Wednesday in the civil rights case between a group of women suing Ocean City, Maryland for the right to be bare-chested on the city's public beaches, according to the attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Civil rights attorney Devon M. Jacob is representing the plaintiffs in the case of Chelsea Eline, et al v. Town of Ocean City Maryland. He will argue his case before a panel of judges at a remote hearing Wednesday morning.

“This lawsuit is about confirming the legal right of women to be bare-chested, in public, in the same places that men are permitted to be bare-chested, for purposes other than breastfeeding,” Jacob said in a press release.

The plaintiffs are a group of five women engaged in a legal battle with Ocean City over the legality of "Emergency Ordinance 2017-10," which prohibits women, but not men, from being bare-chested in public.

 “This lawsuit seeks a declaration from the Court that Ocean City’s ordinance violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, because the gender classification does not further an important governmental interest, but rather codifies longstanding discriminatory and sexist ideology in which women are viewed as inherently sexual objects without the agency to decide when they are sexual and when they are not,” Jacob said. “It is time for the Fourth Circuit to overrule Biocic."

Jacob is referring to the case of United States v. Biocic, a 1991 Fourth Circuit decision which recognized “protecting the moral sensibilities” as an “important governmental interest,” and served as the basis for the US District Court to uphold the ordinance. 

Jacob's argument states that in practice, protecting the moral sensibilities “permits sexist ideology to be cloaked in legitimacy in the same way that ‘nationalism’ legitimizes racism.”

The argument session starts at 9:30 a.m., but the case is listed third for the session, Jacob said. Judges and arguing counsel will participate via Zoom video. 

Parties, non-arguing counsel, and the general public are permitted to listen via live-stream. 

The link to listen and the parties’ briefs can be located on page 6 of the document published at the following link: https://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/cal/internetcalMay032021ric.pdf

The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit hears appeals from the nine federal district courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and from federal administrative agencies.

The Court’s decision in this case will decide the law in the five states.

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