The Front Page of today’s Keene Sentinel features an article titled: Nudity laws: Change needed? This link will likely expire soon, but the article appears identical to one published yesterday in the Union Leader, which is archived at Free Keene, which also features comments from people close to the actual events.
The summary is this: in response to various protests involving bare-breasted women in Central Square, there is increasing public discussion about new laws prohibiting such behavior.
As luck would have it, last week I wrote about this very topic. In the very same Keene Sentinel that features the above article, my letter is published. It outlines an idea for a solution which would not involve any new laws, but would allow people to participate in Central Square in entirely voluntary ways by privatizing the property. Here is the text of my letter as published in the Sentinel: (Note: this letter represents my own views and not the views of the Free State Project)
READER OPINION: A solution for Keene’s Central Square, by Varrin Swearingen
How do you feel about women choosing to be topless on Main Street in Keene? Be part of the conversation on Talkback
Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Some people feel the topless, smoking and drinking demonstrations in Keene’s Central Square have gotten out of hand. Others feel the government and its police are wrong for making and enforcing unjust behavior codes.
So far, this debate has centered mostly around what behavior is acceptable.
Ironically, what some would call immoral behavior simultaneously illuminates and distracts us from the true moral problem. There are two facets of this previously-hidden moral problem I’ll highlight.
First, it is not just for anyone, including government, to coerce support of property from people who don’t agree with the terms.
Second, the government’s right to enforce behavioral standards is justly limited to protecting people and their property from external harm and trespass.
So-called public property, such as Central Square, fails to be moral on both counts: it’s coercively funded, and “the public” cannot, by definition, be external.
In this case, there is a simple solution to both moral failures: privatize Central Square.
What might such a solution look like? Here’s an idea that would retain most of the popular features we would like to enjoy.
The city could deed Central Square to the “Central Square Trust” subject to conditions. Funding could be removed from the current city budget.
The existing mandatory tax associated with that funding could be replaced by an optional property tax to be forwarded directly to the Central Square Trust for maintenance of the property. The Central Square Trust could then contract some or all of its management, including behavioral policy enforcement, back to the city to make it easy. This would keep things more or less status-quo, with a couple of important exceptions.
First, paying for Central Square would become truly voluntary on the part of both parties. Disenfranchised taxpayers could legally stop paying for Central Square, and the Central Square Trust could refuse revenue from uncooperative residents.
Second, as a result of initiating private property rights, “the management” could morally evict people from Central Square for any reason and legitimately enforce eviction using existing trespassing laws.
It could then choose to evict in cases that would be legally and/or morally controversial on public land.
With this kind of setup, users would simply be guests who use the property, not out of right, but out of invitation. Central Square’s revenue would directly depend on satisfying the taxpayers’ actual desires, lest they stop paying.
It could do that systematically without the same limitations burdening public property. To tidy up the transaction, the Central Square Trust could post signs explaining that Central Square is private property, it’s free for use use by all according to its policies, and violators are trespassing.
Instead of arrests for breasts, violators would simply be trespassing — a concept I believe the current batch of demonstrators actually respects.
I’d be happy to participate in such a plan and I bet most others would, too.
We could voluntarily restore a respectful, family-friendly Central Square and morally ask those who won’t cooperate to leave.
When asked, the current batch of controversial demonstrators would likely leave without a fuss and Central Square would be, for the first time ever, truly and rightly “ours.”