Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987)

Houston v. Hill is a remarkable U.S. Supreme Court case that tackles abuses of power by police departments. The Supreme Court decided 7-2 that a Houston, Texas ordinance that was routinely used to arrest citizens for merely “arguing, talking, interfering, failing to remain quiet, refusing to remain silent, verbal abuse, cursing, verbally yelling, and talking loudly” toward a police officer.

Not only did the Supreme Court rule this type of conduct to be protected First Amendment speech, but the Supreme Court also expressed that the right to question police conduct is a fundamental distinction between democracy and dictatorship.

Consider these key quotations:

  • the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers. Speech is often provocative and challenging [b]ut it is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.
  • a properly trained officer may reasonably be expected to “exercise a higher degree of restraint” than the average citizen, and thus be less likely to respond belligerently to “fighting words.”
  • The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.
  • Although we appreciate the difficulties of drafting precise laws, we have repeatedly invalidated laws that provide the police with unfettered discretion to arrest individuals for words or conduct that annoy or offend them.
  • in the face of verbal challenges to police action, officers and municipalities must respond with restraint. We are mindful that the preservation of liberty depends in part upon the maintenance of social order. But the First Amendment recognizes, wisely we think, that a certain amount of expressive disorder not only is inevitable in a society committed to individual freedom, but must itself be protected if that freedom would survive.
  • Although some of these incidents may have involved unprotected conduct, the vagueness of these charges suggests that, with respect to this ordinance, Houston officials have not been acting with proper sensitivity to the constitutional rights of their citizens.


Why I Wear Skirts

I have worn a skirt nearly every single day since July 16, 2016. I see the curiosity in people’s eyes, but I am surprised by how few ask me questions directly. This is, after all, the deep south far from international megatropolises like Miami, Los Angeles, and New York where cultural anomalies are more common. Recently, a librarian lamented that I had not kept a blog of my experience and this led me to think that just maybe the public at large might be interested in the underlying social argument.

As a starter, I deny that the skirt is an exclusively feminine garment. Jaden Smith, Marc Jacobs, and Jared Leto regularly wear skirts and skirt-like garments, as do countless Scotsmen, Japanese, Indonesians, Fijians, Samoans, and roughly one billion Indian and Arab men. The women’s liberation movement, in fact, argued that gender equality afforded women as much right as men to wear pants in the workplace. Workplaces, in turn, shape the culture of industrialized nations.

One example of this is the gender-segregated toilet which appears to have started in 1887 when Massachusetts and New York legislated that employers provide separate toilets for female employees. Whether women were required to toilet separately is less clear. Factory inspectors thereafter frequently included superfluous comments in their reports concerning the propriety of toilet facilities—in some cases, noting that entrances to women’s toilets were not sufficiently hidden. If this sounds bizarre, it will help to know that this was the height of the Victorian era and it was scandalous for the public to have knowledge that women also obeyed nature’s call. Inspectors also frequently remarked on the adequacy of adjoining lounge areas where women could rest and recover their strength when the boisterous world so taxed them that they grew faint (of course, fainting spells had much more to do with their unhealthy corsets).

In a 20,000-word essay published in 2007, Professor Terry Kogan of the University of Utah School of Law argues that gender-segregated toileting is purely a consequence of societal changes during the American industrial revolution (which came later than the European industrial revolution) combined with a little known “sanitarian movement” arising during the Victorian era. Professor Kogan poignantly suggests that gender-segregated toilets had little (if anything) to do with the anatomical or sexual differences between men and women.

I wonder if the same could be said of bifurcated garments. Pants are a relatively modern contrivance and speak more to American expansion and industrialization than anything else. Pants are more practical for manual labor and they are definitely safer when working around machinery. But our society has undeniably transitioned away from manufacturing and toward technology and human services, so what reason is there for cubicle-confined men to be denied more comfortable attire—especially when our summer temperatures swelter above 100 degrees?

Yes, temperature was actually the final straw for me last July when my Camry advised me that the outside temperature was 103° F. I went to a thrift store looking for some worn-out scrubs and instead left with two skirts. My employer’s dress code prohibited men and women from wearing shorts, but specifically permitted women to wear pants, skirts, and dresses. While an employer may legally ban certain garments, it seemed to me that since skirts had been deemed acceptable, it would be discriminatory to allow only one gender to enjoy them.

I can tell you that many skirts are more comfortable than pants. But skirts also afford me a platform to promote a sociopolitical message of equality and acceptance, and in some ways my skirts are surrogate metaphors against racism as gender-profiling and race-profiling are simply appearance-based judgments. I am particular about the skirts I wear—solid colors (mostly earth tones) with pockets and belt loops. I also pair them with a man’s belt, a man’s wristwatch, and a strong polo or oxford shirt. I don’t shave my legs, gay men do not hit on me, and to my knowledge no one mistakes me for a cross-dresser. I sometimes get perplexed smiles and chuckles in public spaces, but no rude comments. I am single and I can still flirt with ladies and they flirt back. Sure, I have to be more masterful in my game, but wearing a skirt does not undermine it in the least and can even present an advantage as a confident man is very attractive to women. As a case in point, I now work elsewhere and I even interviewed for this job wearing a skirt.

I would like to point out that skirts are functionally superior than pants (and even shorts). Skirts afford better conduction of heat away from the femoral blood vessels. Better thermoregulation, in turn, reduces itching and improves male reproductive health. Plus, skirts eliminate wedgies and plumber crack. In 2009 H&M briefly introduced a line of men’s skirts. Today there is a neat carpenter design available online from Utilikilt as well as a unisex skirt from SkirtCraft. There are commercial lines of male and female running skirts and a growing community of avid backpackers who wear skirts to thwart the “crotch rot” menace while on the trail.

Just because bathroom icons still depict women with skirts and men with pants does not mean that a man who wears a skirt will be mistaken for a woman. I want to encourage other men to expand their horizons and I also invite those who see me in the community to feel at ease asking any questions on their mind.

Read an article in a local paper that came about as a result of this blog post.

Luke’s gospel and the question of “Who do people say I am?”

Today I was struck by Luke’s juxtaposition of this question. I never before realized that Luke provided parallel explorations of the question. Consider first Luke 9:7-9 (NLT):

When Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, heard about everything Jesus was doing, he was puzzled. Some were saying that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. Others thought Jesus was Elijah or one of the other prophets risen from the dead. “I beheaded John,” Herod said, “so who is this man about whom I hear such stories?” And he kept trying to see him.

While it is odd that Herod would come to bare upon the narrative, it is not unreasonable since Jesus had just healed the roman officer’s servant in Luke 7. But the real reason seems to be to contrast Herod’s wisdom as a ruler with the wisdom of his disciples. There is an apparent chronological gap (“one day…”) before reaching Luke 9:18-22 but the symmetry is clear:

One day Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. Only his disciples were with him, and he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.”  Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!”  Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone who he was. “The Son of Man[e] must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”