Why every State needs a workable statewide obscenity law

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Article by Robert Peters, President of Morality in Media

Introductory Note

Workable statewide obscenity laws exist in 40 states. In some states, cities and counties can also enact obscenity laws. These laws can encompass both obscene materials and performances.  The prosecuting attorney of each county or judicial district enforces these laws. State and local police may make arrests.

Alaska, Maine, New Mexico, Vermont, West Virginia, Montana & South Dakota do not have a statewide obscenity law.  Maine, New Mexico and South Dakota do allow local control of obscenity.  Statewide obscenity laws are needed in these states.  In Oregon and Hawaii, the State Supreme Court invalidated [Oregon] or greatly weakened [Hawaii] obscenity laws.  Amendments to the state constitution are needed in the latter two States.

To obtain a copy of your state obscenity law, go to www.moralityinmedia.org/nolc (Federal & State Obscenity Statutes).

Why every State needs a workable statewide obscenity law:

Because there are serious harms to society, to family life and to individuals of all ages associated with the distribution and consumption of obscene materials.  As the Supreme Court stated in the 1973 Paris Adult Theatre v. Slaton case:

In particular, we hold that there are legitimate state interests at stake in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity, even assuming it is feasible to enforce effective safeguards against exposure to juveniles and to passersby…These include the interest of the public in the quality of life and the total community environment, the tone of commerce in the great city centers, and, possibly, the public safety itself… Quite apart from sex crimes, however, there remains one problem of large proportions… As Mr. Chief Justice Warren stated, there is a “right of the Nation and of the States to maintain a decent society…”  [413 U.S. at 58-59]

The sum of experience, including that of the past two decades, affords an ample basis for legislatures to conclude that a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass commercial exploitation of sex.  Nothing in the Constitution prohibits a State from reaching such a conclusion and acting on it legislatively…  [413 U.S. at 63-64]

Because the proliferation of obscene materials on the Internet and elsewhere is completely out of control, and every available resource must be brought to bear to curb this pernicious social evil if we hope to contain it.

Because obscenity should be fought at both the Federal and State levels.   Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents should focus primarily on major interstate distributors of hardcore adult pornography, including Internet pornography.  States prosecutors and law enforcement agents should focus on local businesses of all sizes that distribute obscene materials.

Because most cities are not equipped to carry on a prolonged war against illegal obscenity, and municipal ordinances typically do not provide for felony penalties, which will be needed to curb large scale distributors of obscene materials.

Author: Robert Peters   01/07/2011

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.



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