Judiciary Subcommittee Holds Obscenity Hearing

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Examining the constitutional context for obscenity prosecution, scholars Patrick Trueman of the Family Research Council and Robert Destro of Catholic University gave testimony Wednesday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights.

Expert witnesses from the adult entertainment industry were not invited to attend.

The hearing, titled "Obscenity Prosecution and the Constitution," was presided over by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and had been rescheduled from a February date.

Among some of the statements made, Brownback noted how large the adult industry has become and urged fellow lawmakers to more actively pursue prosecutions.

The congressional agenda was set to examine the repercussions of the recently dismissed federal obscenity charges leveled against Extreme Associates and its owner Robert Zacari and how obscenity regulations should not interfere with First Amendment protections.

“The explosion of sexually-explicit material is not a problem that exists in the vacuum of constitutional theory; government has a compelling and real-life interest in the matter, because of porn’s adverse effects on individuals, families and communities in the forms of criminality and addiction," Brownback said.

Critical of Zacari's ten-count dismissal based on First Amendment jurisprudence, Trueman warned against equating free speech issues with commercially "obscene" materials and exploiting "the grand conception of the First Amendment."

"It is a misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and free press," Trueman said, adding that since former President George H.W. Bush left office, the adult industry has become "emboldened" by the lack of interest on the part of government to police and prosecute extreme content.

"If the department of justice shrinks back from enforcing obscenity laws and prosecutes only the most extreme material, it deprives the people of their lawful opportunity to rid their communities of obscene material," he said, lauding a recent pledge made by newly appointed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step-up enforcement.

"The Supreme Court has clearly and repeatedly held that obscenity does not merit First Amendment protection," Brownback said. "The second is that the government has a legitimate and constitutionally valid interest in regulating obscenity through, among other things, the enforcement of relevant federal and state statutes.”

According to Brownback's office, the next subcommittee hearing on obscenity has not yet been scheduled.