AG Gonzales Declares War on Obscenity

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has effectively declared war on the adult entertainment industry, pledging to seek out and prosecute obscenity cases.

People who distribute obscene materials do not enjoy constitutional guarantees of free speech, Gonzales told attendees Monday at a Washington meeting of the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank based at Stanford University.

"I am committed to prosecuting these crimes aggressively," he said in his first lengthy address since becoming attorney general in early February.

Gonzales defended Justice Department attorneys who were told they went too far in trying to block the sale of adult movies over the Internet and through the mail.

The Justice Department is appealing the dismissal of the Rob Black case in Pittsburgh.

Gonzales said he is instructing Justice Department attorneys to "carefully review federal laws" and find out how they can strengthen their ability to prosecute obscenity cases.

The decision to aggressively seek out and prosecute obscenity cases comes one week after Adelphia Communications — the fifth-largest cable provider in the United States — said it would be pulling XXX content from its offerings after just a few weeks of making it available to subscribers.

When the cable provider added Playboy Enterprises’ Spice channel in early February, several pro-family groups voiced their displeasure and launched a grassroots call for the federal government to consider intervention.

The American Family Association’s email alert to supporters encouraged them to contact President Bush and Gonzales, suggesting they instruct the Justice Department to "begin obscenity prosecution" of Adelphia.

The AFA alert resulted in more than 130,000 messages to the Justice Department, according to Randy Sharp, AFA's director of special projects.

"We made the Justice Department fully aware of Adelphia's hardcore pornography," Sharp said. "Distribution of obscenity is a crime — and Adelphia recognized that too."

On Monday, Gonzales said he is also pushing to renew provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year, saying the law has been an important tool in preventing terror attacks in the United States.

The adult industry's Free Speech Coalition has been lobbying for changes in the Patriot Act with the introduction of the Safe Act, S 1709/HR 3352, which would amend some of the Patriot Act’s provisions, placing limitations on the use of surveillance and the issuance of search warrants, and for other purposes.

Gonzales said he will not support changes to the Patriot Act.

"The Patriot Act is working and I think it is safe to say it's helped prevent additional terrorist acts," Gonzales said.

Also Monday, the Justice Department announced that Christopher Wray, head of the criminal division since June 2003, was resigning.

During his tenure, Wray directed the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in cases that included child pornography and obscenity, as well as intellectual property piracy.

Wray is the first high-ranking official to leave since Gonzales took over as attorney general. No replacement has been named.