Obscenity Day At The National Press Club Holds No Surprises

WASHINGTON, D.C. - It was billed as "Speeches/Press Conference against Illegal Obscenity," with the title itself belying its creators' understanding that, at least according to the Supreme Court, obscenity already is "illegal."

But never mind: At least 16 representatives of conservative religious groups gathered at the National Press Club this morning to make known their opinion that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), despite nearly a dozen federal obscenity indictments during the current presidency, still isn't doing its job when it comes to suppressing "smut" a/k/a constitutionally protected sexual speech.

While a recording of this morning's press conference is (reportedly) on its way to AVN, Family Research Council has already released its encyclical on the subject, most of it either provably false or all-too-revealing.

"The porn industry and their friends at the ACLU seek an America where there are no legal limits on pornography - no limit to how graphic it may be, no limit to the people it can exploit for profit, including children," said Cathy Ruse, senior fellow for Legal Studies at FRC, and wife of Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, which targets United Nations family planning initiatives. "And they're winning. Not because what they're doing is legal, but because they're getting away with it."

Actually, no. Adult XXX companies don't use minors in their productions, and in fact, several have called for an agreement to raise the age of performers from 18 to 21. As for porn being legal, the Supreme Court has unequivocally said that it is, so there's no need for the adult industry to "get away with" anything.

"There is no First Amendment right to make or sell hard-core pornography that's 'obscene'," FRC's press release's quoting of Ruse continues. "That's a legal battle the other side lost a long time ago. And without the law on their side they've turned to ridicule, obfuscation, and intimidation to get their way. They mock the word 'obscenity' and make fun of Potter Stewart saying it's hard to define but 'I know it when I see it.' They aim their hired guns at townships threatening to bankrupt them. And they personally and viciously attack anyone who upholds the law."

Of course, Ruse leaves out the fact that it's completely legal to own obscene material, which begs the question of where that material is supposed to come from. Most people don't make it themselves, and for the Supreme Court to rule that sexually-explicit material can be prosecuted at any point until it crosses the threshold of a person's home or apartment is schizophrenic, to say the least.

As for the adult community resorting to "ridicule, obfuscation, and intimidation to get their way," Ruse needs to hold up a mirror to herself and the organizations she represents. The industry does indeed "mock the word 'obscenity'" because any constitutional scholar can see that the First Amendment provides no exception allowing its prosecution. The United States is a government of laws, not of men, with the Constitution the highest law of the land, and the sensibility of the late Justice Potter Stewart that he "knows [obscenity] when he sees it" doesn't pass that smell test.

Ruse can throw around the term "hired gun" all she likes, but the adult industry thankfully has a good body of attorneys willing to defend its right to exist and market its product, and to the extent that municipalities try to thwart that right, those attorneys will go to court to defend it. And as for who's trying to bankrupt whom, Ruse might want to look at the case of PHE, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice, where the DOJ, following the advice of the man who now heads its Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, devised a strategy to indict adult companies in multiple jurisdictions around the country in an avowed effort to bankrupt those companies with legal fees, knowing that it couldn't win its obscenity cases on the merits!

"But the law says obscene material is that which a jury finds: appeals to the prurient interest, is patently offensive, and lacks serious value," Ruse continued. "So it doesn't matter what the porn industry or what the ACLU thinks. All that matters is what a jury thinks, and that means ultimately it's up to the American people to decide what's illegal or not. The people become disenfranchised when obscenity laws are not vigorously enforced."

Actually, the American people become disenfranchised when obscenity laws are vigorously enforced, because it takes from them the decision whether to buy the material or not, and leaves that decision in the hands of government prosecutors, and in some cases, juries composed of up to 12 citizens who often don't understand the concept of "prurient interest" no matter how a judge explains it to them, and most of whom have never talked about their sexual preferences with their families or next-door neighbors, let along strangers elsewhere in their cities in order to know what the "community standards" of their community are! And as for the "American people [deciding] what's illegal or not," one of the reasons the Constitution exists is to protect minorities - like the adult industry - from persecution by the majority - or in this case, by a high vocal minority: Fundamentalist Christians and Jews.

"Our voice is the jury verdict," Ruse boasts. "Without obscenity prosecutions there are no juries, and no juries mean no verdicts, and no verdicts mean the people have no voice. And that leaves the porn industry to set the standards for the culture."

Over 921 million adult tapes and DVDs were rented and sold in 2006, the last year for which such figures are available. The population of the United States is only just over 300 million, including children, but that strongly suggests that adult entertainment enjoys widespread acceptance across the United States. Therefore, for Ruse to claim that her fundamentalist followers' views are "the jury verdict" is both laughable and provably false. Conservatives are so fond of claiming that the free market should be the determiner of commercial laws, let her and her cronies apply the same principle to adult entertainment so they can finally realize that it isn't the porn industry that "set[s] the standards for the culture," it's the average American consumer. Feeling a little jealous, are you, Cathy?

"We call on the Bush Administration and on the next President of the United States to give us back our voice, and vigorously enforce this nation's obscenity laws," Ruse concludes. But what she's really calling for is for the government to embrace her religious doctrines at the expense of everyone else's free speech rights.

The place to peddle that hooey is in Communist China or Vatican City, not the United States of America.