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Posts Tagged ‘obscenity’

Another day, another outrageous attack on free speech. Colorado resident Phillip Greaves was arrested a week ago by Florida cops on obscenity charges. His crime? Writing a book on pedophilia called: The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct. The cops, posing as buyers on the internet, got him to mail a copy of the book to them and then flew to Colorado to arrest him.

I haven’t read the book, but it is apparently not — despite the title — a book on how to abuse children, but instead on how pedophiles can conduct themeselves around children in a manner that conforms to the law.

Eugene Volokh wrote a nice post explaining why Philip Greaves has not violated the obscenity statute nor any child pornography laws. Also read this post at Sexhysteria.

I am pretty sure that the charges against him will be eventually dismissed. Even if the jury convict him, he can appeal and will be virtually certain to win. The operative word though is “eventually”. Till then, he sits in jail. It appears that he lacks the money to hire a good lawyer or set himself free on bail (set at $15,000).

For a related case, read this old post of mine.

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In a huge victory for free speech, the Supreme Court of the US today struck down a law that banned recording, possession or distribution of videos featuring animal cruelty. The Supreme Court concluded that as written, the statute is overbroad and limits all sorts of speech that the Court believes is protected by the First Amendment.

The decision also strikes down the notion of “serious value” as a legitimate criteria for determining if certain offensive speech is worth legal protection. However, as Eugene Volokh notes, by the same logic, the obscenity law should also go. Will that happen anytime soon? Volokh opines, and I agree that it is very unlikely the Court will go that far. Weight on tradition will probably prevent the Court from overturning Miller and declaring all obscenity legal.

This naturally still leaves the question: How can all this be reconciled with the use of “serious value” as part of the obscenity test? I think that as a matter of logic it can’t be. But the Court isn’t just after logic; among other things, it also gives some weight to tradition, and the obscenity exception is very deeply rooted in American law.

Still, I dare hope. For this court has given us Heller, Citizens United and Stevens — three great decisions in favor of liberty in a span of two years. So maybe, just maybe, it is not completely absurd to hope for a day when the Supreme Court declares the obscenity law unconstitutional. (And such an occurrence will surely make the NY Times readership’s collective head explode. After fiercely criticizing the ‘right-wing’ court for Heller, Citizens United, and to a lesser extent Stevens, they will be flummoxed about what to do with a ruling that the progressive base will applaud and the conservatives will despise. What fun!)

Update: A NY Times commenter, clearly in the minority, expresses exactly what I feel about matters of free speech.

Thank God. The point of freedom of speech isn’t to protect the content that everyone agrees is acceptable or even desirable–there’d be no purpose to an amendment that protected what everyone agreed was worth protecting.

The point of freedom is speech is to protect the content that exists at the margins of society; the things that many people find to be objectionable or even reprehensible.

Without such protections, core values of our civil society are at risk (namely, the free flow of ideas and information).

As a practical matter, it is also worth remembering that the tables can quickly be turned on what is ‘acceptable’ vs. ‘unacceptable’ discourse–in a matter of a few years, the good can become the bad and the bad can become the good. The 1st Amendment offers protections against these vicissitudes of social norms.

In short, despite the terribleness of dog fighting–and I agree, it is a terrible and immoral sport–this was an excellent decision. No, wait, let me change that a bit: BECAUSE of the terribleness of dog fighting, this was an excellent decision.

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Andrew Sullivan’s comment on the Paul Little case is bang on the money:

Consensual adult sado-masochistic porn? So obscene you can put someone away for nearly four years. Actual sadism and actual torture? You get legal immunity if you do it at the behest of the president of the United States.

Here’s Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article on the affair.

Of all laws that should not be there, the obscenity law takes a special place. It not just contradicts free speech but also a basic principle of justice — a person ought to be able to know if his act is illegal. Most laws tell you when you cross the line into illegality, not so with this one. According to Wikipedia:

Even at the federal level, there does NOT exist a specific listing of which exact acts are to be classified as “obscene” outside of the legally determined court cases.

Former Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court of the United States, in attempting to classify what material constituted exactly “what is obscene”, famously wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . .”

Yet this terrible law lives on. And it continues to have the support — at least in principle — of some people who like to call themselves defenders of freedom.

Also read my previous posts on pornography and the obscenity law:

John Stagliano:
https://musefree.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/porn-producer-gets-it-law-professor-doesnt/
https://musefree.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/john-stagliano-on-reason-tv/

Karen Fletcher:
https://musefree.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/the-obscene-case-of-karen-fletcher/
https://musefree.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/an-unfortunate-end-to-a-sad-affair/

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No, it’s not the Taliban saying this, but the senior-most judge in Saudi Arabia.

The most senior judge in Saudi Arabia has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes. […]

“There is no doubt that these programmes are a great evil, and the owners of these channels are as guilty as those who watch them,” said the sheikh.

“It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil can not be stopped by other penalties.”

Have a good life.

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I highly recommend the two part interview, embedded below, of pornographer John Stagliano with Reason TV.

Stagliano, who has been mentioned previously in this blog, faces obscenity charges that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. He is a libertarian and a contributer to Reason Foundation.

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Watch the ad first. It’s yummy.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting of India has written to the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) asking it to make sure this advertisement is not broadcast any more, terming it indecent, vulgar and repulsive.

I have long believed that of all the useless appendages of the Indian government, the one that has the least rationale for existence is the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

As Ezra Levant would say: Fire. Them. All.

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Adult film producer John Stagliano — facing up to 40 years in jail if convicted in a currently running obscenity case — debates Pepperdine Law School’s Barry McDonald on free speech vs obscenity. Money quote from Stagliano:

Barry, your point is that people must be forced to not think things that you don’t like, and for that you’d have me put in jail. Your comment that it “seems” to you that viewing images “to obtain sexual pleasure cannot be the healthiest way of experiencing sex” seems not a good enough reason to imprison me for 39 years. In fact, using a proper concept of morality based on individual rights, it is you and those who would put me in jail when I did not infringe on anyone’s rights who are behaving immorally.

(Link via Reason Hit and Run)

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