I’ve been expostulating on the latest civil rights craze: the right to bare large expanses of naked human flesh in settings that disturb others. First it was the right to nurse one’s baby at Starbucks in full view of all the other customers (see Not in My Latte!, Aug. 9). Then it was the right to pack one’s teenagers and pre-teens off to nude co-ed summer camp unaccompanied by a parent, grandparent, or guardian (see The Latest Civil Right: Nude Summer Camp for Kids, Aug. 10).

Both of these causes have been enthusiastically covered by the Washington Post, which evidently thinks that those who object to such practices are a bunch of Aunt Prunes. The Post has become so fervent on the subject of public lactation that it has decided to endorse not only breast-feeding at Starbucks but breast-feeding at your local health club as well. And you thought spandex thongs on the Stairmaster was already going a mite too far!

In an editorial today, the Post takes up the cause of Kasey Madden, who got in trouble for public nursing at a health club in Chicago. The club, mind you, had a special infants’ section where nursing was permitted, but Madden refused to repair there, insisting that she had a right to breast-feed anywhere on the premises she wished. The Illinois legislature agreed, passing a law allowing a mother to breast-feed “in any public or private place she is otherwise authorized to be,” as the Post editorial put it. I guess that includes church, the opera house, the boardroom, and your and my dining rooms, should we make the mistake of inviting Kasey Madden over for brunch.

The Post whole-heartedly endorses such laws even though, um, it turns out not to be politically correct for breast-feeding mothers to drink coffee:

“We’re all for letting babies eat when and where they want, and for making life as easy as possible for their beleaguered mothers. Starbucks might also get with the program by adopting a nationwide policy (although we wonder about a store whose stock in trade is caffeine becoming a favorite watering hole for nursing moms).”

And just to clinch the matter, the Post points out that Dr. Laura Schlessinger–the right-wing she-devil herself!–disapproves of public breast-feeding without a discreet cover-up.

Fortunately, there’s a lone voice of sanity at the Washington Post. In a hilarious essay titled “Do Me a Favor, Keep a Lid on Your Double Latte,” Post staff writer Roxanne Roberts, a onetime nursing mom herself, says that although laws may permit nursing at the table in places where other people are trying to eat, she wishes you please wouldn’t:

“The objection is not with the babies, God bless their mewling little souls. Nor is it with the medical benefits of nursing, or even the legal right to do so. It’s about the fragile balance of liberty and taste, questions of appropriateness and venue. It’s about the slippery and ever-changing slope of social standards.”

Roberts continues:

“[O]vert public breast-feeding makes lots of people uncomfortable, so this is less about nursing than about imposing a belief system on those who do not share her views. It’s about who offends whom, for what reasons, in what settings. It’s not about rights, per se. It’s about taste and prevailing social norms.

“Consider: A large, rather hairy man walks into your corner of Starbucks. He’s wearing a gold lam’ Speedo and Prada loafers. That’s it. He buys a Grande Mocha Frappuccino and settles into a cafe table by the window, where he proceeds to scream into his cell phone.

“No question he’s got the right to wear his bikini bottoms in public. No question that his attire is entirely inappropriate for Starbucks (don’t get me started on the cell phone) and may prove offensive to those with delicate sensibilities, like me.

“We are an uptight, prudish lot and in general believe large expanses of flesh, personal grooming and breast-feeding are not spectator sports. ‘In America, breast feeding is done only among intimates,’ writes Judith Martin in ‘Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium.’

“The ‘it’s natural, it’s beautiful’ lobby says nursing is nothing to be ashamed of and the rest of us just need to get over it. Let’s talk natural. Scratching in inappropriate places is natural. Clipping toenails is natural. Passing gas is natural, as is picking one’s nose. None poses a health threat to those around us, and we probably all have a legal right to do so in public. But we don’t because we have decided, in our arbitrary, old-fashioned way, that some things are not done in polite society. My 12-year-old son can belch impressively, and correctly states that in some societies it is considered a compliment to the chef. Not in my household, buster.”

I’m with Roxanne Roberts, Judith Martin, and Laura Schlessinger: If it’s got to be double latte for your baby at Starbucks, please wear one of those T-shirts!