James Tierney of Kirkland, Washington, who also goes by the nickname “Barefoot James,” isn’t intimidated by signs warning “No Shirt, No Shirt, No Service.” That’s because he always carries a letter with him from the State Health Department, which he says explains that “the barefoot ban is a myth.” Tierney, like a growing number of barefoot aficionados across the country, are fighting every day for the right to exist sans shoes. Alan Bruens of Vernon, New Jersey, who’s also a member of the online group Society for Barefoot Living, says he regularly goes barefoot to the library, the bank, and even the local delicatessen. He’s only been kicked out for his barefootedness twice, “one of which earned me an apology from a Port Authority cop at Newark Airport.” But the pro-barefoot laws don’t always keep the haters away. Tierney says he’s regularly accosted by people who try to scare him with “apocryphal tales of broken glass and bleeding feet.” But after years of walking the earth without protection, he claims that his soles are indestructible. The feet of a Barefooter, he says, “are the same as rhino horns.”

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the January 13th, 2012 issue of the New York Times Magazine.)