Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

Attorney reveals the naked truth on nudity cases

By Daniel Wallace

Manhattan Judge Stanley Katz last Thursday dismissed the public nudity summons issued to an artist for her protest of the Iraq war that involved disrobing to display the words “STOP THE WAR” written on her naked body.

Hala Faisal, 47, was arrested Aug. 9 for her naked protest near the arch in Washington Square Park. Faisal is a Syrian-born performance artist who said her naked endeavor was the only way she felt she could protest unjust occupations.

Ronald Kuby, Faisal’s lawyer, said the case was dismissed on a legal technicality.

“The police officer, in writing the criminal complaint, stated only that Mrs. Faisal ‘exposed herself to public view,’” Kuby said. “The officer failed to indicate which body part she exposed; and the failure to do that rendered the summons deficient.”

But even if the case had not been dismissed, Kuby said his client would have won the trial. The indecent exposure statute in New York prohibits the exposure of private or intimate parts.

“And that is highly subjective,” Kuby said. “Some people consider their cellulite to be private; and some people consider their ears to be intimate.”

Furthermore, Kuby said, there is an important exception to the statute. The law does not apply to people appearing in a performance, play, exhibition or show. And, waxing philosophical, Kuby questioned what is not a play, performance, exhibition or show.

“Isn’t all the world a stage?” he said. “And, what Mrs. Faisal did — if that was not an exhibition, then I don’t know what is. I mean, good God.”

Kuby has been counsel on 12 nudity cases, all of which he’s won. Spencer Tunic, the famed photographer of mass public nudity projects, is among his clients. Kuby said the law is so vague as to render it impotent unless lewdness or sexual misconduct is involved.

“Is it illegal to be nude in your own home when the public can see you?” he asked rhetorically. “Or what about private property where the public is permitted to enter — like a dance club? And what about all the films that are made publicly on the streets of New York that contain nudity? When you try to figure this out, you basically say, screw it — if people want to run around naked in the streets, it’s cool.”

Kuby said if more people took this position it would make the job of police officers easier because there would be no concealed weapons. But of course, there are other, nonlegal reasons why most people will choose to keep their clothes on.

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