The following press release, from VA ratify ERA, describes a situation that is absolutely bonkers and 100% unacceptable. As State Sen. Scott Surovell puts it, “No bond for a public nudity charge in connection with First Amendment political speech sounds more like Russia than the United States of America. We don’t lock up political prisoners in America.”
WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST HELD IN JAIL WITHOUT BOND FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
Richmond, VA On Monday, February 18, a woman was arrested for expressing her support of the Equal Rights Amendment in a uniquely feminine way. Michelle Sutherland was arrested as she enacted the Virginia state seal outside the Capitol entrance with her fellow Equal Means Equal activist, Natalie White. The official Virginia seal shows Virtus with one breast exposed, standing victoriously over a defeated tyrant.
This portrayal was political speech protected by the First Amendment. As the women enacted the seal a third woman read a statement titled, “Delegate Gilbert, you are not a king.”
Today, Ms. Sutherland appeared before a judge who told her she would be held without bond until her trial on March 21. Upon hearing this news the ACLU of Virginia tweeted, “Showing a breast as part of a satirical act of protest is not obscene. The real obscenity at the Capitol is lawmakers standing in the way of constitutional equality against the will of the people.”
Ms. Sutherland’s denial to her basic right to freedom is particularly egregious since no crime was committed. “To our knowledge, this is the first time that someone has been held without bond for non-violent protests,” said Equal Means Equal Co-Director Natalie White.
Virginia may be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars for violating Ms. Sutherland’s due process and First Amendment right to free speech. Kati Hornung, Campaign Coordinator for VAratifyERA, said, “The system was designed by men, for men, and they seem intent on scaring women from political speech. In this situation we see a man exerting authority, who had no basis for that authority because Ms. Sutherland was not doing anything illegal. Further, the judge overstepped the boundaries of reasonableness, perhaps to make an example of Ms. Sutherland. This is part of the reason why we need the ERA, because the system is so male centric and they don’t know what to do with women who challenge their authority by using their First Amendment protected rights. We hear Ms. Sutherland is in good spirits and talking with women in the jail about the Equal Rights Amendment. She now has a very good attorney and we hope she will be out shortly. Women will not be silenced.”