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Federal judge: Fort Collins can’t enforce ban on women going topless

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- A federal judge has ordered the city of Fort Collins to stop enforcing a policy that bans women from showing their breasts in public.

It started with one woman asking, "If men can go topless, why can't women?"

"It's sexist because it specifically discriminates against female breasts," Brittiany Hoagland said in 2015.

Hoagland, Samantha Six and a group called Free the Nipple -- Fort Collins made headlines across the country when they protested on the corner of College Avenue and Mulberry Street with nothing but "opaque dressings" covering their nipples.

The Fort Collins City Council asked for public input but ended up voting to keep the topless ban for women in place.

But the council added two exceptions: Breastfeeding mothers and girls younger than 10 years old.

After the decision, Hoagland, Six and Free the Nipple -- Fort Collins filed a civil lawsuit against the city, claiming the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

On Wednesday, Federal Judge R. Brooke Jackson ordered an injunction preventing police and the city from enforcing the ban.

"The court essentially agreed that any statute containing the concept that 'Women are prohibited from …' is likely unconstitutional," attorney David Lane said in a statement.

In his ruling, Jackson disagreed with the argument that topless females might distract drivers and cause traffic issues that disrupt public order.

"[I]t appears that underlying Fort Collins’ belief that topless females are uniquely disruptive of public order is [a] negative stereotype ... that society considers female breasts primarily as objects of sexual desire whereas male breasts are not," Jackson said.

The judge cited a researcher as stating that sexual objectification of the female breast leads to negative cognitive, behavioral, and emotional outcomes and contributes to higher rates of sexual assault and violence.

The judge also disagreed with the argument that seeing a woman's breasts could harm children.

"Nor has Fort Collins provided any meaningful evidence that the mere sight of a female breast endangers children. The female breast, after all, is one of the first things a child sees," Jackson wrote.

"It seems, then, that children do not need to be protected from the naked female breast itself but from the negative societal norms, expectations, and stereotypes associated with it."

Lane called the decision "Another example of the federal courts enforcing the Constitution in the face of the police and the City fighting against the Bill of Rights."