A popular, closed Facebook group called "Barefoot Is Legal" has one mission and its members are so incredibly serious about it: "Advocacy for barefoot acceptance."
The Facebook page, along with a website of the same name, hopes to promote "barefooting" in all public domains. Yes, this includes spaces like offices, restaurants, grocery stores, parks, sidewalks — you name it.
"Our goal is to educate businesses, corporate America, and society that in many cases shoes are not necessary and can have negative effects on your health," the group's Minneapolis-based regional director, Nick Deutschmann, told BuzzFeed News.
Members call it an activist organization, and one of their big points is that there are no direct laws in the US banning being barefoot. (There are some parameters — but we'll get there.)
This gave them their name, "Barefoot Is Legal."
"I thought I was the only one that had an interest in living barefoot," Deutschmann, 44, said when he was initially brought into the group. At the time, there were only a handful of passionate members.
Over the last two and a half years since the mission was founded online and on social media, it has amassed over 60,000 active members.
They say they come from all kinds of backgrounds, including doctors, lawyers, and pastors.
The Barefoot Is Legal Facebook page regularly shares pro-"barefooting" articles, photos, and self-made memes to engage with its community.
They churn out a lot of memes. They've most recently become (in)famous on other social media platforms like Twitter, where people have posted their memes.
The memes are designed to try to rationalize and normalize being barefoot, and to try to dispel any public judgment. "We've given confidence to many people that were very shy about being barefoot in public places," Deutschmann said.
Deutschmann and his team of moderators are very aware of how going barefoot is perceived by the general public — aka the shoe-wearing public at large.
"There is another type of individual we run into who is purely into judgment and criticizing us," 39-year-old Myekah Beond told BuzzFeed News. He's the regional director for the group based in California.
"These are the people you see talking ridiculous hate towards us, for no reason other than to judge. I have been threatened that something bad would happen to me if I was seen on the street," he said.
The group was founded in 2015 by a man named Dave Kelman after he said he was kicked out of a Baskin-Robbins for not wearing shoes.
"The manager said, 'I can't serve you because there could be glass on the ground,'" Kelman explained. "I looked him in the eye and asked, 'What glass products are you selling in my ice cream?'"
"He stated, 'We do not sell anything with glass. But a gang member can do a drive-by and shoot up all the windows in this building.'"
Since then, Kelman and his team have passionately pushed their two major points. The first is that it is 100% legal to be barefoot in public in the United States.
"Many people and businesses believe there are laws pertaining to going barefoot," Beond said. "When they find out [there aren't] they are surprised."
"Exactly zero laws exist in any state in the USA or any Canadian province," Kelman added.
BuzzFeed News attempted to reach a handful of attorneys and law professors on the matter. A majority of them expressed that they were not knowledgable enough about this area of law to comment.
The short answer is, yes, there are no laws explicitly banning US citizens from being barefoot in public, or forcing them to wear shoes.
In 1964 Congress passed Public Law 88-352, which prohibited businesses from discriminating against patrons on the basis of their skin color, race, religion, sex, nationality, or any physical conditions.
Many have interpreted this law to mean that businesses can turn away customers if that decision is not based on these discriminatory factors.
This means those “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs are lawful and can be enforced by restaurants, stores, gyms, banks, and any other business.
Most businesses cite potential safety and health hazards for turning away customers who are, for example, not wearing shoes.
However, barefoot enthusiasts reject the notion that being barefoot is unhealthy or unhygienic.
"As far as a health risk it's a matter of logic," Deutschmann said. "Bare feet are only touching the floor and not being used to spoon potatoes on our plate at a restaurant. We do not use our feet at the grocery store to pick out an apple."
He added, "Bare feet naturally do not smell."
The group's other major claim is that "shoes are detrimental to one's health" and that being barefoot is "healthier." A podiatrist told BuzzFeed News there are in fact health benefits, but the group's claims are a bit "far-reaching."
Dr. Emily Splichal is a podiatrist in New York City and a specialist in barefoot science. She told BuzzFeed News she's very well aware of the Barefoot Is Legal Facebook group.
She explained that going barefoot in public, or for extended periods of time, can achieve a kind of "sensory stimulus to the nervous system, as well as to achieve what's called earthing."
"Earthing," according to Splichal, is "a form of grounding or neutralizing the negative charges in the body which if uncontrolled can result in aging, inflammation, and disease."
So a person who chronically wears shoes, with little to no barefoot stimulus, can start to create a disconnect between the brain and the environment, and perhaps become more prone to the ailments listed above.
However, Splichal also said that wearing shoes is important and can help alleviate the risk of contracting disease or an infection.
"Going barefoot in a high-foot-traffic area can increase the risk of stepping on something or being stepped on," she said.
However, she said, "there really isn't a higher risk when barefoot versus in shoes" for contracting a disease.
"The only time the risk increases is when there is already a break in the skin," she said.
The group said they're aware of this, too. They exercise caution and even wear shoes in environments that may be more dangerous, like on an especially hot day.
Overall, the leaders of Barefoot Is Legal say their activism is motivated by simply wanting to "coexist" with those who wear shoes in society.
"We are not here to force people to go barefoot," Beond said. "We never judge any of our members for anything they believe, and we hope some day we can also get through to the public so that we can all live in respect of one another.
"And coexist without being ridiculed," he added.
Earlier this week, the group got back in touch with me to make sure I was aware one of the Parkland student activists, Jaclyn Corin, was receiving criticism online for not wearing shoes on the recent Time cover.
"Millions of people who support the Parkland kids are pissed at the barefoot girl. Many have even stated online they wish she died? Hope you caught that. It would be a good tie-in," one of the members said.
I thanked them for getting back in touch. When then asked how the group felt about the Parkland student activism to push for stricter gun laws, they gave one final statement.
"We are taking a neutral stance on the matter. We just thought it was sad the public roasted her for being barefoot."
Tanya Chen is a social news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Tanya Chen at email@example.com.
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