BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Ocean City officials are determined not to let the Maryland vacation destination become a topless beach.
In fact, they “intend to do whatever is within [their] ability” to prevent it, according to a statement released Friday.
The town has reportedly received numerous phone calls, comments and emails expressing concern since yesterday, when it was first reported that Ocean City Beach Patrol employees were told not to bother women who go bare-chested.
Those guidelines were sent to employees in a memo from Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin this week. The policy — which instructs employees to document instances of female toplessness but not to approach the woman in question — comes after a woman who advocates for ladies being allowed to go topless in public contacted the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s office about the legality of it last year.
“It’s not actually written or codified, there is no book that has a definition of what is and what isn’t indecent exposure, and that’s the reason there’s an ambiguity,” said legal expert Adam Ruther. “She’s raising an argument that because men are allowed to go bare-chested so are women should be allowed to go bare-chested.”
The Associated Press identified that Eastern Shore woman as Chelsea Covington, a national advocate for the “topfreedom” movement.
At that time, Worcester County Attorney General Beau Oglesby ran the matter up the flagpole, requesting an opinion from Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
A spokesperson for Ocean City said Thursday that they are still waiting for the opinion, but the mayor and city council are “strongly opposed” and are exploring what legal actions they can take to prevent topless women on the beach.
The latest statement, released Friday afternoon, reads:
Despite many reports and social media posts, the Town of Ocean City is not a topless beach and will not become a topless beach, town officials pledge. The intent of the policy that is being reported on was strictly for our Beach Patrol employees. We want our lifeguards to have their eyes on the ocean, as the safety of our swimmers is their first priority. Our police department, on the other hand, will respond to calls from the Beach Patrol and complaints from our beach patrons, should any activity of toplessness occur.
“The Mayor and City Council are unanimously opposed to women being topless on our beach or in any public area in Ocean City,” stated Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “While we respect Ms. Covington’s desire to express what rights she believes she may have, Ocean City is a family resort and we intend to do whatever is within our ability to also protect the rights of those families that visit us each year.”
This matter was brought to our attention when the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office received a request from a woman who believed it was her constitutional right to be bare-chested on Ocean City’s beach. At that time, the State’s Attorney reached out to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on the matter, which the Town of Ocean City is still anxiously awaiting.