Justice for the Obscenity That We Hate

There’s been a great debate for decades over what The Constitution’s distinguished First Amendment protects. Sure, you have your freedoms: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and of course the freedom to redress grievances with the government. But, what about the freedom of expression?

In February of 1971, the Supreme Court convicted Paul Robert Cohen of “engaging in tumultuous conduct.” Cohen had walked through a Los Angeles County courthouse with the words ‘F*** the Draft’ inscribed on the back of his jacket. The Supreme Court eventually reversed this conviction describing it as a violation of his right to free expression under the First Amendment. It turns out that Cohen’s blatant “sexual offensiveness” was what landed him in the back of a cop car. He committed no slander nor did he involve himself in libel, so what part of this “offensiveness” was not protected under the First Amendment?

What is the difference between this “right to free expression” and free speech? Is there any difference? See, the right to freedom of expression, similar to the right to freedom of speech, is “designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion.” This means leaving it in the hands of our competent society to discern for themselves. It was not created to allow the government to interfere in our right to freedoms. And, it was certainly not constructed to allow court judges to reprimand their metaphorical children. This is what they did when they arrested Mr. Cohen.

It is true that “disapproval of sexual content was a staple element in American legal conflict for many decades,” and censorship became a movement across the United States. Arguably an act outside of the First Amendment, the United States government began to censor film and radio amongst other forms of entertainment. They even went as far as limiting the locations where adult films could be shown. The most prominent debacle was over the allowance to show pornography and obscenity. But, why was the government so intent on banning a freedom that held no ill-will toward the government or politics? What gave the government the right to tell us how to present our bodies? The protection of feelings should never be greater than the protection of freedoms. The freedom of expression, sexual oppression more specifically, is a right that should most certainly be protected. Pornography and profanity are forms of speech and expression protected as constitutional rights under the First Amendment.

One thought on “Justice for the Obscenity That We Hate

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  1. Nice post. A quick point of clarification, the MPAA rates films and it does so partly because the industry feared governmental regulation. The result of the self-imposed rating system was to wave off any attempts by the government to regulate content- outside of viewing locations for x rated films.

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