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Topless protestors demand attention to Pope’s failures

Nicole Penke, Opinion Writer
February 27, 2013
Filed under Opinion

Pope Benedict XVI’s choice to resign at the end of February created an opportunity for Femen Activists, a radical feminist group, to participate in a shocking protest against the views of Benedict and the Catholic Church at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Benedict, 85, announced Feb. 11 he will resign because of advanced age. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.

It was a day to be marked in the history books in more ways than one. It’s the first time a pope has resigned in nearly 600 years and it’s the first time a topless protest was used to shock the general public and offend the Catholic Church. However, the topless protest was not the best way to attract attention to the conflicting opinions on the issues.

Huffington Post writer Meredith Bennett-Smith said a group of topless activists scandalized Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral by disrobing in public to celebrate Benedict XVI’s resignation.

The small group of women, an extremist group dedicated to bringing attention to women’s rights, flashed their breasts and banged on bells in the cathedral, shouting slogans such as “Bye bye Benedict” and “No more homophobe, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Femen appears to have no love for the outgoing pope, whom the group blasted on its website for his stance on same-sex marriage.

The protest was certainly controversial. Was there a better way to go about it, or is this the action needed to get attention to the issues?

Benedict XVI’s resignation was the ideal stage to make the protest. The event had millions of viewers, and the topless protesters had passion.

If the protest was at a Catholic church in the U.S., then the protestors might have been protected under the first amendment.  The topless protest was a political demonstration. The Supreme Court addressed a similar political demonstration regarding offensive speech in the 1989 Texas vs. Johnson case. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan made a statement in the case that would help the Femen activists’ movement.

“The American peoples’ enduring lesson, that the government may not prohibit expression simply because it disagrees with its message, is not dependent on the particular mode in which one chooses to express an idea,” Brennan said. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

The Femen activists and the Catholic Church both have a right to express their specific views on the issues of birth control, homosexuality and the role of women. Their offensive protest would have been justified in the U.S. under the First Amendment.

In the U.S., the Femen activists in the topless protest might have been charged with public exposure, which might have brought even more attention to the issues.

At least one thing can be gleaned from this. The stunt worked. How many people read this article just because the word topless was in the headline?