ACLU Arts Censorship Project Pornography and the First Amendment Intense public controvers

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ACLU Arts Censorship Project Pornography and the First Amendment Intense public controversy surrounds efforts to curb material considered by some people to be "pornographic," "indecent", or "obscene." Indeed, the very meaning of such words is controversial. The American Civil Liberties Union contends that all expression, no matter how objectionable or offensive it may be so some or even most of us, is protected by the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Following are the ACLU's answers to questions frequently asked by the public about our position on pornography. ============================================================= Why should pornography be entitled to the same constitutional protections as fine art or political speech? ============================================================= We cannot trust the government to make such distinctions. History shows us that obscenity laws have often been used to suppress speech orpublications about sexuality. For example, Margaret Sanger was arrested in the 1920s for speaking out about birth control and abortion. More recently, _Ms. Magazine_, which often features articles about sexuality, was banned in a California community; _Our Bodies, Ourselves_, a well-regarded feminist book on women's health and reproduction, has been the target of many assaults. The U.S. Supreme Court has never been able to come up with a definition of obscenity that is specific enough to make clear to artosts, authors, filmmakers, publishers and producers exactly what is prohibited and what is permitted. Thus, in recent years obscenity prosecutions have been brought against a museum director for exhibiting homoerotic photographs and a music store for selling rap music. --============================================================ I don't think sex education materials should be censored. But since most pornography is sexist -- it exploits and degrades women -- doesn't it violate civil rights statutes? ==--========================================================== Many of the same feminists and others who believe that pornography is harmful to women aldo caution thta obscenity laws have always been used to curb womwen's access to information about sex and reproduction. A world without demeaning attitudes toward women is a desirable and worthy goal, a goal that the ACLU is working to achieve. But government curbs on speech are not the way to achieve that goal. The "civil rights" approach to pornography may seem attractive but, like all other anti- pornography measures, it could easily backfire by empowering the state to control speech, and to use its power to limit more than just the speech we abhor. For example, the government might use its censorship power over speech considered sexist to censor other speech that might be shocking, but that criticizes pornography in the course of examining the problem of sexual violence in society. ================================================================ But hasn't it been shown that pornography incites sexual assault and other violent crimes, and isn't that a justifiation for curbing it? ================================================================ Countless attempts have been made (most recently in the largely discredited Meese Commission report of 1986) to show that exposure to pornography causes violent criminal behavior. Such a link has yet to be proved. But even if that connection could be demonstrated -- and all such evidence is questionable -- censorship of books, magazines or films cannot be justified by the effects they _might_ have on _some_ disturbed people. Throughout history, passages from the Bible of Shakespeare have been said to inspire violent acts. The movie "Taxi Driver" supposedly inspired John Hinckley to shoot Ronald Reagan in 1981. If we were to hold pornographic images or words responsible for some people's errant behavior, then we would have to ban some of the world's greatest literature and art. ========================================================= Surely some exception must be made for child pornography? ========================================================= The sexual exploitation of children is a crime. Criminal, sexually abusive acts committed against children -- _not_ books or films that depict such criminal acts -- should be vigorously prosecuted. As for young people's access to pornography, the ACLU has found that efforts to render material inaccessible to minors generally end up restricting the freedom of adults as well. Parents, not the government, should monitor their children's reading and viewing habits. ================================================================ The courts don't agree with you that all expression about sexual matters is protected by the First Amendment, so why do you keep at it? ================================================================ We keep at it because civil liberties are always under attack and, therefore, must always be defended. Our commitment to protecting all the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights requires our constant presence in the courts, in legislatures, and in forums of public opinion. It may take years to prevail in thse arenas, but in the meantime we seek as much as possible to limit the scope of obscenity laws, to mitigate penalties, and to ensure that they are applied only in compliance with due process of law. ============================================================ The American Civil Liberties Union, founded in 1920, is non- partisan and is the nation's only organization devoted solely to defense of the Bill of Rights. Our Arts Censorship Department, established in 1991, combats censorship of artistic expression, including expression related to sexuality.


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