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The Sagging Pants Dilemma — Pull up or Pay Up

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For those of you who are challenged in the fitted pants department, it may be time to invest in a belt, as some parts of Louisiana are criminalizing the act of getting caught “with your pants down” — literally.

Three towns and parishes in the Pelican State have just passed an “anti-sagging” or baggy pants law; three others are currently considering the same ban. No, this is not a joke. I’d like to believe that the good people of Louisiana are more focused on rebuilding their communities than cracking down on belly bearing pants, but apparently this is a hot button issue for some Cajun counties.

The baggy pants ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to wear clothes that reveal their underwear or dress in a manner “not becoming to his or her sex.” The prime targets of the law are young men who wear sagging pants that often reveal their under britches. The rationale behind this ordinance? These family townships are responding to complaints from “decent families and communities” that believe these belt-less boys are disrespecting their elders, and furthermore, that this behavior represents a lack of parental supervision.

Yikes! Talk about a nanny state. Let’s face it — most of us are going to have some saggy parts at some time. What’s next, criminalizing those pushing maximum density that “defy the laws of physics in spandex?” That is certainly not becoming to one’s sex! You’re probably thinking that even if someone is busted by the pants police, the most an offender will receive is a slap on the butt since our country has more pressing issues at hand (such as war, immigration and Katrina reconstruction). But sadly, you’d be mistaken. Violators in some parishes face up to six months in jail coupled with a $500 fine for underwear exposure. However, some areas are choosing to punish first offenders with a fine and community service.

After reading about this new ordinance, I am relieved that my brother outgrew (or grew out) his baggy jeans phase or my family and I would be constantly bailing him out of jail and likely going broke in the process. Paul Baier, a law professor at Louisiana State University, said the ordinance is too vague and therefore unconstitutional. Not surprisingly (and rightfully so), the American Civil Liberties Union had some words on the matter. “It’s just so stupid. It’s idiotic with all the challenges and problems facing us in Louisiana right now,” remarked Vincent Booth, President and Executive Director of the Louisiana branch of the ACLU. And, in my favorite line, Booth says the ordinance could also be discriminatory. “Would they selectively enforce it against 17 year old hip hoppers but not against plumbers?” Good point!

What happened to our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression? It’s unconstitutional to dictate how low my pants go because the government has no “compelling interest” in determining the bagginess or sagginess of my trousers. Joe Cook, another member of the Louisiana branch of the ACLU, chimed in and said this kind of law “infringes on young people’s freedom of expression and their privacy rights.” Under the zone of privacy, we have the right to be “let alone.”

Without flinching, LaFource council member Lindel Toups (a member of one of the parishes enacting the law) proposed a test to determine what constitutes saggy pants: Have the wearer raise his or her arms and if the pants fall down, you’ve broken the ordinance. So let me get this straight — Louisiana police officers are now required to add the job of “measuring the gap between a subject’s pants and shirt to their duties,” which in Louisiana includes patrolling the second worst highways in the country and investigating the second highest number of alcohol related accidents? Even high schools are more tolerant of individual differences.

Legislatures in Virginia and Texas attempted to enact similar ordinances but ceased action after learning their communities vehemently opposed the law. My thoughts: I think the ladies and gentleman of Louisiana need to shift their attention away from the seams of our pants and leave charm school to parents. Additionally, until our senators can keep their own pants on, they should not be telling us how to wear ours!



Sources:

• Memo to Britney: Lose the low-slungs
Dallas official wants city ban on baggy pants
Anti-saggy pants councilman had problems with grandson
Lafourche OKs saggy britches ban; Pointe Coupee considering one
Cajun Town Bans Saggy Pants in Bid to Cover Up 'Private Parts'


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.