Bikini Hut Loses Landmark First Amendment Appeal for Female Empowerment

This is Raquel Welch as Loana in the classic 1966 remake of One Million BC. I am including it purely for illustrative purposes to show what a barista wearing a bikini might look like.20th Century Fox

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Up in Everett, Washington, an establishment called Bikini Hut employs baristas who, um, wear bikinis. The city was unamused and passed an ordinance telling them to cover up. Naturally they sued, making the claim that their choice of apparel had nothing to do with sex:

Plaintiffs’ First Amendment free expression claim asserts that the baristas convey messages such as “female empowerment,” “confiden[ce],” and “fearless body acceptance” by wearing bikinis while working. In support of their motion for a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs submitted declarations from several baristas explaining their views that “a bikini is not a sexual message, [it’s] more a message of empowerment,” “we are empowered to be comfortable in our bodies,” “[t]he bikini sends the message that I am approachable,” “the message I send is freedom[,]” and “my employees expose messages through tattoos and scars.”

Perhaps unfortunately for Bikini Hut, on appeal to the Ninth Circuit they drew an all-woman panel of judges who knew bullshit when they heard it. Here is Judge Morgan Christen writing for a unanimous panel:

Context is everything when deciding whether others will likely understand an intended message conveyed through expressive conduct. To decide whether the public is likely to understand the baristas’ intended messages related to empowerment and confidence, we consider “the surrounding circumstances[.]”

….The baristas’ act of wearing pasties and g-strings in close proximity to paying customers creates a high likelihood that the message sent by the baristas’ nearly nonexistent outfits vastly diverges from those described in plaintiffs’ declarations. The commercial setting and close proximity to the baristas’ customers makes the difference. Because plaintiffs have not demonstrated a “great likelihood” that their intended messages related to empowerment and confidence will be understood by those who view them, we conclude that the mode of dress at issue in this case is not sufficiently communicative to merit First Amendment protection.

And there you have it.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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