An activist who supports the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is being held in jail without bail after she exposed her breast during a protest.
According to Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, reportedly exposed one of her breasts while dressing as the Roman goddess Virtus, who appears in similar garb on the Virginia state seal.
The protest took place as Virginia lawmakers were debating whether or not to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
On Monday, a magistrate set a secured bond of $700 for Sutherland.
But during a video hearing on Tuesday, Judge Lawrence B. Cann III ordered the activist to be held without bail until her court date on March 21.
Equal Means Equal activist Natalie White suggested that the judge is treating Sutherland like a political prisoner.
“They’re putting the goddess of virtue in jail and this is the goddess that is on the seal of Virginia overthrowing a tyrant,” White told the Times-Dispatch. “You know that this is coming from a political standpoint.”
VAratifyERA group spokesperson Kati Hornung also issued a statement to the Times-Dispatch.
“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.”
Kevin Martingayle, president of the Virginia State Bar, said that the judge’s order is unusual.
“What the woman did in reenacting the flag/seal is classic political speech entitled to the highest free speech protection known to law,” Martingayle explained. “She should win and the denial of bond seems to be totally inappropriate. I am very surprised to see that done in a case in which she’d be unlikely to get jail time even if convicted.”
Sutherland reportedly has no criminal record.
UPDATE: The judge has released her. His reasons for holding her without bail are absurd.
Judge Lawrence B. Cann III allowed Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, to be released without posting any bond after initially ordering her held indefinitely, the woman’s lawyer, David Baugh, said. Cann explained his initial decision to hold her without bail by saying the only information that he had in front of him at the time was that she had made an obscene display of her body — not that she was in Virginia as part of a protest, Baugh said.
“As far as he knew she’s a flasher,” Baugh said. “He said, ‘When I denied you bond you had no ties to Virginia, and this is all I had in front of me.’”