The state seal of Virginia, designed by American sculptor Charles Keck, features a female figure personifying the Roman virtue of Virtus. It also features an exposed breast of the young lady.
While that is apparently OK as a symbol of the Commonwealth, it apparently was not OK when Michelle Renay Sutherland shows her mammary gland outside the state capital in Richmond. It is both against law and keeps her in jail without bond, which is very usual for a non violent misdemeanor in the Old Dominion.
Sutherland, 45, uses the state name “Sister Leona” in her performance art appearances like the one in Richmond as part of a protest against General Assembly House Speaker Kirk Cox and Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, the two Republican leaders trying to stop a floor vote on an Equal Rights Amendment measure.
She and another activist tried to recreate the Virginia State Seal:
Natalie White, the other activist in the scene, wasn’t happy when police arrested her friend.
They’re putting the goddess of virtue in jail and this is the goddess that is on the seal of Virginia overthrowing a tyrant. You know that this is coming from a political standpoint.
After the arrest on Monday, a magistrate set a secured bond of $700 for Sutherland, who has no criminal record but Richmond Civil District Chief Judge Lawrence B. Cann III ordered her held without bond and refused comment.
A past president of the Virginia State Bar, Kevin Martingayle, did have some comments. He told the Richmond Times Dispatch:
What the woman did in reenacting the flag/seal is classic political speech entitled to the highest free speech protection known to law. 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.
VAratifyERA spokesman Kati Hornung also had a few things to say:
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.
“The real crime here is the obstruction of democracy by not allowing the Equal Rights Amendment to come to the floor for a vote,” adds White.