Playboy Yanked From Shelves

Tina Reilly
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Known for strict obscenity laws that have made the state of Alabama one of the harshest critics of adult material, a bookstore was forced to pull copies of Playboy and Playgirl from its shelves because they violated state obscenity laws.

Alabama's obscenity laws are so strict that adult sex toys and nudity are considered obscene. They prohibit adult entertainment businesses from presenting nude dancing without covering the male or female genitals and female breasts, and impose severe limitations on the location of adult businesses within cities.

Alabama District Attorney Len Brooks ordered a bookstore chain called Books-A-Million Inc. to get rid of the adult magazines after patrons allegedly complained. Books-A-Million is the third largest book retailer in the country with more than 200 stores in 18 states.

This is not the first time lawmakers have intervened with bookstore content. Three years ago, Attorney General Bill Pryor filed obscenity charges against Barnes & Nobles for selling copies of art photography books that the state felt contained "obscene" material.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Books-A-Million responded immediately to the DA's order to remove the magazines, but a criminal investigation is pending. Alabama's obscenity law is judged on a "community standard," and according to reports, the area of Birmingham where the store is located, a county called Cullman, is an extremely conservative region of the state.

The president of the bookstore chain responded to the DA's request by saying that the display of Playboy and Playgirl in the bookstore was a "mistake."

"We must continue to work to insure the community standard and values of morals and decency that have been established here are not compromised," the DA was quoted as saying to the AP.

Alabama's obscenity laws have garnered a lot of attention lately as being not only the toughest in the nation, but over a recent decision from the Alabama Supreme Court to amend a law that a person can only be convicted of obscenity once for possessing what is considered "obscene material."

The Alabama Supreme Court's decision to lessen the penalty for obscenity in Alabama was based on a child pornography case against a public works officer who was convicted on 10 counts of possessing obscene material on his computer.

The Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that a person can be convicted only once for possessing obscene material no matter how many pictures they had at the time of their arrest. Based on the court's decision, nine of the 10 counts were dismissed and the defendant will only go to prison for one of the three-year jail terms he was sentenced to.

Additionally, state legislators had a chance to remove the ban on sex toys in mid-2003 but decided to vote against it.

A federal district judge in Birmingham ruled on two occasions that the sex toy ban is unconstitutional. The first ruling was overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the second ruling has been appealed to the appeals court.