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10 Key Court Decisions That Prevent Right-Wing Christians from Controlling Your Sex Life

If the Christian Right had its way, the U.S. would be a theocracy.

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9. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002)

While the laws governing the creation, sale and distribution of adult entertainment in the United States are complex and nuanced, the Supreme Court has been much more clear-cut where child pornography is concerned. Child pornography is flat-out illegal in the U.S., and that includes simple possession ( Stanley v. Georgia only applies to adult erotica). The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in  New York v. Ferber in 1982 that child pornography doesn’t enjoy the protections of the Miller test. So when Congress passed the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) in 1996, civil libertarians had no problem with Congress reaffirming the illegality of child pornography. But they found parts of the CPPA to be overly broad and problematic, including a ban on “virtual child pornography” (material, including computer-generated images, that appears to depict sexual activity with minors but doesn’t involve any actual minors). The Free Speech Coalition (FSC), a Los Angeles-based trade organization for the adult entertainment industry, challenged those parts of the CPPA—and they were struck down when  Ashcroft v. the Free Speech Coalition went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002. The Supreme Court upheld the illegality of actual child pornography -- and rightly so -- but pointed out that countless mainstream Hollywood films have had stories depicting sexual situations among teenagers, including  American Beauty and Traffic. The High Court said: “If these films, or hundreds of others of lesser note that explore those subjects, contain a single graphic depiction of sexual activity within the statutory definition, the possessor of the film would be subject to severe punishment without inquiry into the work's redeeming value. This is inconsistent with an essential First Amendment rule: the artistic merit of a work does not depend on the presence of a single explicit scene.” The FSC applauded the High Court’s decision, asserting that government’s prosecutorial efforts should be focused on real child pornography instead of “virtual child pornography.”

10. Jack Thompson v. the 2 Live Crew (1992)

The majority of obscenity cases in the United States have involved films, magazines or books. But in 1990, Florida-based Christian Right activist Jack Thompson (who was an attorney at the time) tried to prove that U.S. obscenity law applied to music as well—and his main target was 2 Live Crew, a Miami-based rap group known for its sexually explicit lyrics, raunchy humor and song titles like “We Want Some Pussy,” “Head, Booty & Cock,” “The Fuck Shop,” “Me So Horny” and “S&M." Thompson’s campaign against 2 Live Crew led to Jose Gonzalez (a district court judge in Florida) ruling that its 1989 album,  As Nasty As They Wanna Be, was obscene and illegal to sell; some retailers were even arrested for selling it. But in 1992, a court of appeals in Georgia overturned Gonzalez’ ruling and asserted that  As Nasty As They Wanna Be did not fit the Miller test for obscenity—and that decision was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Thompson continued to rail against rap lyrics, and after that, video games that he didn’t like, although his legal career came to end when, in 2008, the Florida Supreme Court permanently disbarred him for his long history of unprofessional conduct (which included, among other things, libel and slander, frivolous filings and making false statements to tribunals).

Alex Henderson's work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

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