If you like to run around the house naked, that’s your business. If you like to run naked through shopping malls, however, then that’s the business of lots of other people—especially the owners and shop-owners of the shopping mall.
When you’re running naked through “public property” however—that is, when there’s no real owner to make decisions on standards of behaviour thereon—we all appear to face a conundrum. Should it be allowed? At what hours? And if not, why not?
Nude jogger Andrew Pointon gets his kicks jogging nude around the McLaren Falls Park outside Tauranga. A public park. A government-owned park. So who gets to set the rules when there’s no real owner?
Andrew just survived an eighteen-month court ordeal in which Justice Paul Heath finally found Pointon not guilty in the High Court of offensive behaviour for this nude traverse of the Crown’s domain.
Pointon said Justice Heath ruled fairly regarding the nude jog.
"It's not offensive behaviour when you go out in the middle of the country to begin a run naked,'' Pointon said… "It is a win for all libertarians…”
Mr Pointon's lawyer Michael Bott - a specialist in human rights and civil liberties – said…if the original decision had gone unchallenged, it would have had a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression.
I don’t agree.
Mr Bott has confused running with speaking.
It’s perfectly true that folk don’t have a right not be offended. It’s also equally true that folk shouldn’t be required to provide a microphone or a platform to those they disagree with—which is what happens when we all “own” a public place and Mr Pointon wants to run through it with his tackle all exposed. The issue of public ownership only serves to confuse an issue already confounded by widespread misunderstanding of what free expression really means.
That Pointon’s lawyer talks about the issue being about “expression” means he’s not just confused himself, but strongly suggests Pointon’s nudity itself is less about a private pleasure and more to do with shocking others. Expression, after all, has to be expressed to someone.
And even from the safety of private property, common law rightly prohibited broadcasting behaviour further afield that would diminish a neighbour’s own peaceful enjoyment of their property—especially if it were intended to cause offence. Thus for example, setting up a stage on your church-going neighbour’s boundary on which you intended a nude performance of the Nativity Scene would be prohibited, without their consent. Whereas taking a piss against a boundary tree would not.
Mr Pointon appears to have forgotten basic principles of neighbourliness. Not to mention courtesy.
UPDATE: Yes, people, “offense” is contextual. Which is why common law works it out so well. Also why Jimmy Carr gets away with the world’s most offensive jokes. Or does he.