Tops for Topsail? Pender town to reconsider banning topless sunbathing

Topsail Beach is considering an ordinance to ban topless sunbathing on its beaches.
Topsail Beach is considering an ordinance to ban topless sunbathing on its beaches.

An issue of topless visitors sunbathing on the shores on Topsail Beach is resurfacing again, but a legal matter in Maryland may help local leaders enforce a ban.

Mayor Steven George Smith brought up the matter during a March meeting. The town attorney is being asked to look into rules after learning about a court ruling from 2021. Smith said it was upheld based on an ordinance, similar to what Topsail Beach would need.

"If you remember, there had been several cases brought before U.S. Courts of Appeals and they have been disavowed because they violated the constitution or some other law," Smith said. "Knowing that, I have asked our attorney for an ordinance that may work for Topsail Beach."

According to previous reports, Ocean City, Md. won a case with the Fourth Circuit ruling officials were justified in banning the baring of women's breasts. Ocean City passed its law in 2017 after one of the plaintiffs in the case contacted Ocean City police and asserted a right to go topless.

A three-judge panel noted courts across the country have upheld laws banning women from topless sunbathing on public beaches. It was also mentioned that Ocean City leaders have a right to have rules to protect the public's sensibilities.

Previous local coverage:Topsail topless? Commissioner looks to prohibit topless sunbathing

Before Smith's comments during the public comment portion of the meeting, a letter from a concerned resident about topless and nude sunbathing was read to the public by commissioner Joe Bell.

"There's no good reason to allow it, given Topsail Beach is a family-oriented town," Bell read. "It would seem to be a logical thing to prohibit, and I think it's time to address this issue."

Commissioner Tim Zizack made request to prohibit topless sunbathing with an ordinance last summer. At the time, he said there hasn't been any issues, but wanted to have an ordinance on the books.

"It's more of a statement that we're a family community and we're just being cautious to make sure we have an ordinance like other beach town communities," he said last July.

Discussion for an ordinance was placed on the agenda, but commissioners did not talk about the issues.

The information for the possible ordinance will be presented to commissioners before a decision is made.

"It may not be everything people would want or desire," he added, "But it's something where we won't expose this town to an excessive liability situation. That's something we have to be careful on."

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Reporter Chase Jordan can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Topsail Beach to reconsider prohibiting topless sunbathing