Vice Squad
Friday, May 18, 2007
Kansas Community Standards

Sexually-explicit forms of speech in the US can be regulated or banned provided that the three-part test from the 1973 case of Miller v. California is satisfied. The first part of the "Miller test" is that the work, taken as a whole, and in applying contemporary community standards, appeals to the prurient interest in sex. The second prong of the Miller test relating to "patent offensiveness" also relies upon contemporary community standards. (The third prong concerning the lack of serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value is not to be judged by community standards, according to a later Supreme Court decision, Pope v. Illinois (1987).)

I bring it up because I am wondering about the latest activities of anti-obscenity crusaders in Kansas. They have presented county prosecutors with petitions urging that grand juries be empaneled with the aim of bringing obscenity charges against some local businesses -- not one or two businesses, but, er, 32. Doesn't the very fact that they can identify 32 filth peddlers suggest that these businesses are operating in accord with community standards? I mean, maybe one or two businesses might be able to make a go of it even while flying wildly in the face of community standards -- but 32?

The anti-obscenity crusaders should be careful in opening up this petition thing. In Hong Kong, a student journal that included a quiz asking about incest and bestiality fantasies provoked 184 complaints, leading to a finding that the journal was indecent. But then a website went up describing some Biblical scenes; more than 1700 complaints have now been submitted to the indecency authorities about the Bible.

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