Sunday, January 08, 2006

Recovering civil liberties, one (backward) step at a time

Ruling affirms right to share feelings through mooning

This week, a suburban judge ruled that mooning is a cheeky yet legitimate form of communication -- but then, Chaucer and Mel Gibson taught us that long ago.
"He was showing his disapproval. ... It was intended to offend, in the sense of being critical," said attorney James Maxwell, speaking of his client, Raymond McNealy, 44, of Germantown, Md.

Last June, exasperated by a feud involving a homeowners association, McNealy felt moved to moon his neighbor Nanette Vonfeldt, a member of the association's board, who was accompanied by her 8-year-old daughter. McNealy was put on trial for indecent exposure and found guilty last fall. His misbegotten moon could have cost him three years in prison and a $1,000 fine. After an automatic appeal, the verdict was reversed.
As Circuit Court Judge John Debelius III said in the acquittal, the act is "disgusting" and "demeaning." McNealy may have experienced a different judicial outcome, added the judge, if he had been on trial for "being a jerk."

At a time when some say civil liberties are being restricted (the Patriot Act is silent on mooning), it may be comforting that the right to moon has been affirmed. But the implications are staggering.

When the masses come to petition the legislature for their favorite causes, will they dispense with the formalities and just drop their pants? Can citizens moon judges, police officers, the governor?

"I don't think that mooning the governor -- I'm not suggesting it's a nice thing to do -- would be any worse in terms of violation of criminal law than thumbing your nose," Maxwell said.

He considered his court victory a nice bit of legal reasoning: "With hard work, we cracked the case, no buts about it."

Not so fast, said Montgomery County State's Attorney Doug Gansler: "This is not a blanket permission slip to moon in Maryland."

Here the lawyers fall into an arcane back-and-forth. While Maxwell said the judge ruled that buttocks are never "private parts" to fit the crime of indecent exposure, Gansler said he'd prosecute again if an alleged mooner intended his act as a crime.

But who moons with criminal intent?

"If exposure of half of the buttock constituted indecent exposure, any woman wearing a thong at the beach at Ocean City would be guilty," Debelius said.

Bravo to the judge, for getting it right in dark times, and bravo to the author of the article for working a reference to Chaucer into an article on shining. Now if we can only regain our right to wear clothing.

And the state attorney's threat to prosecute future flashers based on intent does create a huge gray area. In addition to thongs at the beach, mentioned in the article, it completely overlooks the crucial issue of pressed ham in the workplace:

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