Legal objections to pornography in the United States

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In the United States, distribution of "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy" materials is a federal crime.[1] The determination of what is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy" is up to a jury in a trial, which must apply the Miller test; however, due to the prominence of pornography in most communities most pornographic materials are not considered "patently offensive" in the Miller test.

In 1967, Denmark decriminalized pornography with few adverse effects[citation needed], and the following year, the United States Supreme Court held that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. These two developments contributed in part to Congress creating the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography in 1968 to investigate the effects of obscenity and pornography on the people of the United States. Each member of the Commission was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In what became the most detailed and comprehensive investigation into pornography to date, the Commission in its final report found that pornography could not be shown to do harm to individuals or to society, and recommended the repeal of obscenity and pornography legislation as it related to adults. Released during the presidency of Richard Nixon, the report generated a brief bout of controversy but was ultimately ignored by the administration.

Attorney General for Ronald Reagan Edwin Meese also courted controversy when he appointed the "Meese Commission" to investigate pornography in the United States; their report, released in July 1986, was highly critical of pornography and itself became a target of widespread criticism. That year, Meese Commission chairman Alan Sears[2] contacted convenience store chains and succeeded in demanding that widespread men's magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse be removed from shelves,[3] a ban which spread nationally[4] until being quashed with a First Amendment admonishment against prior restraint by the D.C. Federal Court in Meese v. Playboy (639 F.Supp. 581).

In the United States in 2005, Attorney General Gonzales made obscenity and pornography a top prosecutorial priority of the Department of Justice.[5]

The conservative religious organization Concerned Women for America polled every U.S. attorney’s office to find out what they planned to do about obscenity. Except for a handful of offices that didn’t return calls, not one said it had any inclination to pursue anything other than child obscenity cases.[6]

See also


  1. "U.S. Code: Title 18, 1462. Importation or transportation of obscene matters". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 2008-01-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. David Jennings (1 June 2000). Skinflicks: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry. AuthorHouse. p. 344. ISBN 978-1-58721-184-3. Retrieved 27 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Politics and Pornography". Retrieved 2006-08-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon". Retrieved 2006-08-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Kay, Julie (2005-08-30). "U.S. Attorney's Porn Fight Gets Bad Reviews". Daily Business Review. ALM Properties. Archived from the original on 2005-10-25. Retrieved 2007-11-08. The agents were stunned to learn that a top prosecutorial priority of [interim U.S. Attorney Alex] Acosta and the Department of Justice was none of the above. Instead, Acosta told them, it's obscenity. Not pornography involving children, but pornographic material featuring consenting adults. ... Acosta replied that this was Attorney General Gonzales' mandate.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Krause, Jason (2008-02-01). "The End of the Net Porn Wars". ABA Journal. American Bar Association. Retrieved 2008-07-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>