Department to Appeal Obscenity Case Dismissal
Baptist Witness, February 24, 2005
From the Baptist
WASHINGTON (BP)—The U.S.
Department of Justice has announced it will appeal a recent setback on
obscenity, providing a glimmer of hope it may prosecute such cases with more
ardor under a new attorney general.
The department will ask the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals to overturn a federal judge’s decision dismissing an obscenity
indictment against Extreme Associates, the DOJ announced Feb. 16. The 10-count
indictment dismissed in January charged the Los Angeles-based business with
conspiracy to distribute obscenity, as well as disseminating obscene material
through the mail and the Internet.
New Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a written
statement the DOJ “places a premium on the First Amendment right to free
speech, but certain activities do not fall within those protections, such as
selling or distributing obscene materials. The Department of Justice remains
strongly committed to the investigation and prosecution of adult obscenity
Some pro-family organizations have questioned the Bush
administration’s commitment to the fight against obscenity, however. While
they charged the Clinton administration with a constant failure to prosecute
obscenity under former Attorney General Janet Reno, they also were displeased
with the DOJ’s record on obscenity under Bush’s first attorney general,
When it was revealed in early February Adelphia
Communications Corp., the country’s fifth largest cable company, would begin
offering hard-core pornography to subscribers in Southern California, the
American Family Association blamed the Department of Justice. “Adelphia
feels safe in offering the illegal obscenity because they know that the
Department of Justice will not prosecute them,” AFA Chairman Don Wildmon
said in a written release.
The department’s announcement of its appeal was made
only two days after Gonzales was sworn in as attorney general Feb. 14.
In dismissing the indictment at Extreme Associates’
request in a western Pennsylvania federal court, Judge Gary Lancaster
referenced a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning state prohibitions on
homosexual sodomy. The Lawrence v. Texas
decision, Lancaster wrote, “can be reasonably interpreted as holding that
public morality is not a legitimate state interest sufficient to justify
infringing on adult, private, consensual, sexual conduct even if that conduct
is deemed offensive to the general public’s sense of morality.”
If Lancaster’s decision is upheld, the DOJ said it was
concerned the ruling “would undermine not only the federal obscenity laws,
but all laws based on shared views of public morality, such as laws against
prostitution, bestiality and bigamy.”
Critics of the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Lawrence
ruling warned the majority’s reasoning could produce such results.
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