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Constitution, US Politics

Individual rights – pornography

John Paul Stevens, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

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Pornography and theUSConstitution

Key points:

  • The First Amendment appears to clearly allow pornography in theUSA.
  • It is the function of the Courts to decide which laws infringe on the right to free speech.
  • ‘Obscenity’ and ‘art’ are subjective terms.
  • The suppression of non-pornographic works under the guise of attacking ‘obscenity’ has worried many. Feminist women are particularly keen to prevent the harms of censorship since historically information about sex, sexual orientation, reproduction and birth control has been banned under the guise of ‘protecting women’.
  • The Communications Decency Act 1996 (an attempt to censor the internet) was unanimously struck down by the Supreme Court (9-0) in  Reno vs ACLU (1997) as an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment.
  • Justice Stevens (pictured) wrote  for the Reno case: “Not withstanding the…importance…of protecting children…we agree that the statute [law] abridges the First Amendment…The interest in encouraging freedom of expression outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.”

Questions to consider for class discussion:

  1. Do you agree that the Constitution does allow for the transmission of pornography as a result of First Amendment freedoms?
  2. Consider the view that – although it doesn’t prevent pornography, the Constitution doesn’t necessitate it either…?
  3. Is the Constitution to blame or is it simply the fact thatUSsociety doesn’t oppose pornography strongly enough? Perhaps it simply too difficult to define?
  4. What can be done to change the Constitution? Is it likely? Why or why not?
  5. What does all this mean for the ‘rights of the individual’?





  1. Pingback: Individual rights – religion « Government & Politics A-level - November 9, 2011

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