On a pleasant April afternoon in 1993, Angelina Carreras went to the Sylvan Beach Festival in La Porte, Texas. She was accompanied by a male friend. They sat down in a grassy area, ready to enjoy the carnival. Then they took off their shirts.

Now the case of Carreras vs. Texas is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court on a petition for review. The court just turned down a separate case from Mississippi, raising some of the same issues. Carreras is also likely to get the old heave-ho, but the cases are worth a pondering anyhow. Let us reflect upon the remarkable ends to which our constitutional law has come.The point is, once Angelina and friend had doffed their shirts, they were equally topless. Her breasts were bare. So were his. Upward of 15,000 persons were milling around the festival grounds. Some of them, unable to avert their eyes, paused to goggle.

The cops, doing their duty as they perceived it, then arrested Carreras for disorderly conduct. Specifically, she was charged with knowingly making an offensive display in a public place and thus tending to incite a breach of the peace. On this charge she was found guilty and fined $500. The pending appeal followed.

Her argument is that by arresting her only, and not her male companion also, Texas violated her 14th Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. In brief, says her counsel, "she is being prosecuted solely because she is a woman."

Among the witnesses at trial was William Simon, a professor of sociology at the University of Houston. He was asked why society thinks that women should keep their shirts publicly on while men may take their shirts publicly off. He responded that female breasts are regarded as "erotic objects," and the public display of erotic objects is likely to cause a disturbance. So much for Angelina.

The facts in the Mississippi case are fuzzier, and I may not have them right. Apparently the controversy began in 1991 when a nightclub called Tiffany's opened its doors in Jackson. It offered topless dancing. Another impresario of ballet opened the Longhorn Gentlemen's Club. A third lover of the art form opened Danny's. The state Supreme Court said a "public uproar" ensued.

The city of Jackson responded by changing its local zoning laws, the better to isolate the dancers in an Industrial Erogenous Zone, but the shirtless ones went to court.

The Mississippi case turned more on the doctrine of free speech than on the doctrine of equal protection. Unlike Carreras, who was exhibiting her bonhomie for fun, the Mississippi ballerinas were going topless for pay. They were thus engaged in a form of commercial speech.

A New York court has held that the state has no compelling interest in punishing toplessness on public beaches. Courts in other states have defended conventional morality. I take no sides on this cosmic issue. I merely wonder aloud how a constitutional amendment of 1868, aimed at protecting blacks from racist sheriffs, could be cited in 1997 as protecting a topless woman from the Texas cops.