Supreme Court declines to take case challenging Ocean City’s topless ban

Keep your tops on.

The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging an Ocean City, Maryland, ordinance prohibiting women from going topless on the beach.

The petition — filed by attorneys for a group of women who argued the ban amounted to gender discrimination, since men are allowed to bare their chests on the beach — was one of 374 cases the Supreme Court declined to take up, according to a list published by the court Tuesday.

The petition, Eline v. Ocean City, was filed in December after more than four years of legal proceedings in federal court. The attorney for five women challenging the ban stated the ordinance “codifies long-standing discriminatory and sexist ideology in which women are viewed as inherently sexual objects without the agency to decide when they are sexual and when they are not.”

“Ocean City’s ordinance that is intended to protect traditional moral sensibilities perpetuates a stereotype ingrained in our society that female breasts are primarily objects of sexual desire whereas male breasts are not,” attorney Devon M. Jacob wrote.

The town is “pleased with this latest and final judicial ruling” on the ordinance, Ocean City’s attorney, Bruce F. Bright, wrote in an email to the Associated Press.

In August, the three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled unanimously that the beach town’s ban on women going topless is constitutional.

The legal saga over topless sunbathing goes back to May 2017, when one of the plaintiffs in the case, Chelsea Eline, contacted Ocean City Beach Patrol and questioned what would happen if she went topless. That inquiry made its way to the Worcester County State’s Attorney and then to the Maryland Attorney General.

In the meantime, media reports and social media rumors began taking off, so to speak, about the family-friendly beach town going topless.

In response, in early June of that year, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance making public nudity a municipal infraction punishable with a fine of $1,000.

“We have never been a topless beach, and we will not become a topless beach,” Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said at the time.

In April 2020, U.S. District Court Judge James Bredar ruled in favor of the beach town.

“Protecting the public sensibilities from the public display of areas of the body traditionally viewed as erogenous zones — including female, but not male, breasts — is an important government objective,” Bredar wrote.

That ruling was reviewed and upheld by the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which noted that courts across the country have upheld law banning women from going topless.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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