ComFest organizers file federal lawsuit against liquor agents to allow women to go topless

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Just days ahead of its opening, the organizers of Columbus’s Community Festival (ComFest) have filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against law enforcement agencies from punishing women for going topless at the popular event.

According to organizers, state liquor agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit have allegedly threatened to file charges against ComFest or shut down alcohol sales at the festival if topless women are allowed to attend and remain at the festival.

“Applying a strip-club regulation to a three-day political festival like ComFest in a public park is ridiculous and unconstitutional,” said Ed Forman, an attorney for ComFest, in a press release. “Female festival goers who uncover their breasts are exercising their First Amendment rights and ComFest cannot and will not remove them from the Festival [sic]. It is well-established law that all genders may be topless in Goodale Park.”

The organizers of ComFest filed a lawsuit Monday seeking an injunction against liquor agents and other government agencies to prevent them from punishing the festival and the women who choose to attend the festival topless.

In past years, some female attendees have chosen to go to the festival topless, which is allowed under Ohio’s public decency statute. The organizers of ComFest say they have no legal standing to bar anyone from attending the festival. The festival uses a non-exclusive permit from the city, which allows Goodale Park to remain open to the public during the festival.

John Croke has been performing live music at the festival for the last 12 years. He said women should be able to be topless if they choose to be.

“ComFest, in the time of year with Pride right before it, is when Freedom of Speech is at its best in Columbus,” he said. “It’s allowed in Ohio so, why not? It’s a great time. I’ve seen very few incidents in my over a decade coming here, every year.”

Another festival go-er, Molly Tilton said she’s been going to ComFest since she was 10 years old.

“Since I’ve been coming here since I’ve been little, I don’t think liquor has anything to do with women acting inappropriately as far as taking their shirts off,” she said. “I definitely think it’s empowering and I don’t think it’s something that should be considered a taboo. I think if men can walk around topless, why can’t women?”

Organizers are worried that the potential sanctions against them will carry severe financial implications for the festival.

“Because the Festival [sic] is in large part funded by beer sales, the shutdown of alcohol sales would cripple the festival financially,” the press release announcing the lawsuit states.

Organizers say that the threat of sanctions runs deeper than financial concerns and goes to the heart of what the festival is about.

“ComFest fundamentally opposes the unequal treatment of women in any fashion and the viewing of women’s breasts as sex objects,” the release reads. “Like many of the women who chose to go topless at the Festival, ComFest strongly believes that it is valuable to confront the stigmatization of women’s bodies and to encourage conversation about societal norms and dress.”

ComFest is scheduled to run from Friday, June 23 to Sunday, June 25 in Goodale Park.

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