So To Speak
James D. DeCamp / Dispatch
Robert Neinast goes barefoot most of the time.
Library says no shoes, no service
Thursday, April 12, 2001
Dispatch Accent Columnist
Robert Neinast is barefoot and indignant.
The Columbus Metropolitan Library trod on his rights by refusing to allow him to tread its aisles without shoes, he said.
So he's suing.
"I just want them to let me use the library barefoot," Neinast said. "It's that simple."
Neinast is a member of the Dirty Sole Society, an international organization that promotes the "barefoot lifestyle." Its Web site (http://www.barefooters.org) lists about 700 members.
Here's part of the society's mission statement: "To promote barefoot acceptance worldwide and to work towards regaining the freedom our parents and grandparents had to go barefoot anywhere."
And you thought nose rings took some getting used to.
The Dirty Soles, who say going bare is pleasurable and healthy, also enjoy barefoot field trips. They even braved New York, which would seem the ultimate test of how dedicated one is to walking shoeless.
The thick-soled Neinast, who in the past has defended the rights of nudists and opposed efforts to ban thong bikinis from state parks, has been a barefoot enthusiast about four years.
He has gone backpacking barefoot, frequents businesses barefoot and wears flip-flops to the office only because his employer requires footwear. (He sheds the flip-flops once he gets to his desk.)
Other than that, he seems like a conventional fellow. He's married and a father of three, and works as a software writer.
Neinast said his wife, who wears shoes, tolerates his habits, and the kids are used to it. "That's just the way Dad is," they say.
He wears shoes to church and to formal occasions. He also puts them on when the temperature falls below 30 degrees.
Occasionally, he cuts himself on something sharp, but not as often as people imagine. When you're barefoot, you're more careful about where you step, he said.
Neinast's dress habits have made him something of a legal expert. Contrary to popular belief, he points out, there is no state law against driving barefoot, nor are there any state or local health codes against going to restaurants barefoot.
That's not to say businesses can't have policies against it.
"Every now and again I get tossed from some restaurant," Neinast said.
"Some of the animosity is probably left over from hippie days." He, however, is no hippie. "I take baths. I take a shower every day."
The dispute with the library had been simmering for several years. Neinast said he has been asked to leave the Main Library three times for being barefoot.
"The last time they were incredibly rude," he said. That was March 2, when he was issued a notice forbidding him from returning to the library for 24 hours.
Neinast, acting as his own lawyer, filed suit April 3 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court against the library board of trustees, director Larry Black and an assistant manager of security. He seeks an injunction against library rules requiring footwear and asks for $4,000 in damages.
The suit says the barefoot ban deprives him of his First, Ninth and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. It also says that no state law forbids bare feet in libraries, and the library board of directors has no specific policy against it.
Forrest Sorensen, director of security for the library system, said the barefoot ban is an administrative interpretation of a library board policy against disruptive behavior.
"We do have in our procedures that customers should not engage in actions that are distracting to other customers. . . . Sitting around with bare feet certainly does attract attention."
He said the ban is also meant to protect patrons from injury.
Neinast said he doesn't enjoy forcing the library to spend money defending a lawsuit, but he feels it's necessary in the face of what he considers illogical rules.
He is aware that his is an unorthodox quest.
"Yeah, I know it's weird," he said. "It's kind of out on the fringe, but I'm also one of those that really dislike things that make no logical sense but somebody decides you've got to make a rule anyway."
Joe Blundo is an Accent columnist.
Copyright © 2001,
The Columbus Dispatch
Reprinted with permission