PITTSBURGH - Indecent exposure charges against Carnegie Mellon University senior Katherine O'Connor will be dropped after she and another CMU student perform community service over the next four months. The ACLU of Pennsylvania represented O'Connor at a hearing earlier today. The indecent exposure charges stemmed from two separate performances the art students gave during an outdoor art show on CMU's campus this spring.
If convicted of indecent exposure charges, the students could have landed on sex offender registries in some states and faced other severe consequences.
"Universities should be safe places for students to explore and express themselves," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Instead, simply for expressing herself through performance art, Katie faced charges that could have life-altering consequences."
On April 18, 2013, O'Connor participated in the Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby, an annual event organized by CMU art students. In a performance art piece designed to highlight the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandals, O'Connor dressed as the pope from the waist up and was nude from the waist down. She had shaved her pubic hair into the shape of a cross. Her concept had been approved by her adviser prior to the parade and was announced during the parade with a warning that people may want to cover their eyes. Police were made aware of her nudity on the day of the Derby but merely told her to put on her pants, which she did.
Although the parade took place on April 18, the students were not charged until May 10, after Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik condemned O'Connor's performance publicly.
"The First Amendment protects art that is controversial, political or involve nudity, and even all of the above," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Katie's performance was an artistic work performed at a university-sponsored outdoor art festival and as such should enjoy full First Amendment protection."
"It would be unfair for one arm of the university to approve her performance and a different arm to charge her for doing what was approved," Walczak added. "If the university wants to set limits on the art show, they can do that, but the students need to be told what those limits are."
Katie declined to make a statement at this time, but wanted to thank the large number of CMU students, faculty and administrators who have shown her extraordinary support over the past month.
Pittsburgh lawyer Jon Pushinsky represented O'Connor on behalf of the ACLU. Once O'Connor has completed her 80 hours of community service, the charges will formally be withdrawn.