Manhattan commissioners address Public Nudity Ordinance

Michael Dodson, mayor, having a discussion with commissioner Usha Reddi, before the city commission meeting at Manhattan Town Hall on Oct 15, 2019. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

A Public Nudity Ordinance was brought up for questioning in a Manhattan City Commission meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Katharine Jackson, Manhattan city attorney, wrapped up Tuesday’s meeting with the Public Nudity Ordinance, passed in 2003, which prohibits “lewd and lascivious” activity. No state law prohibits nudity overall in Kansas, but the ordinance does not allow for genitals and buttocks to be presented.

Since the ordinance was passed, there have been 51 total cases in Manhattan. 37 male and 14 female, with six cases of toplessness. Only one case has been recorded since 2010, Jackson said.

The issue in this ordinance was addressed in a Colorado case called “Free the Nipple v. City of Fort Collins, which brought up the legality of female “toplessness.”

This ordinance is said to have a basis for a challenge if someone came forward for a lawsuit and would “likely” win. Manhattan is not required to amend the ordinance, but in doing so would save city funds and resources to defend.

“I don’t like one gender getting more penalties than the other,” Usha Reddi, mayor pro tempore and city commissioner, said. “This will need to have further discussion.”

Both the Kansas State and Riley County Police Departments have to work with the ordinance and have dealt with the previous cases.

Two options were brought up by Jackson, and the first she recommended to the commission.

Option one would be to decriminalize female “toplessness” and other forms would still be illegal. Business and property owners can require all patrons to wear shirts/pants when entering their property as well. If this change is made, Jackson said it would reduce legal risk, allow time for higher courts to resolve and allow state prosecution if facts warrant.

“I will like to err on the side, I would like to limit the amount of money for lawsuits,” Linda Morse, city commissioner, said. “I don’t think we will be the only city going through this.”

The ordinance as it stands now allows men to go shirtless while women could stand to be held responsible against the public nudity ordinance. The city commission wants the ordinance to be gender neutral and not favor one gender over the other.

The second option would be to do the wait and see policy. This option would not make any changes.

Jerred McKee, city commissioner, said he has concern about the ordinance being left as is.

“My concern is that if a woman goes topless and believes it is her right, then she could be charged by state law,” he said.

All five votes from the commission were in favor for the of the recommended option to make changes to the ordinance. More discussion is expected in the future.