Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Censorship as a Political Tool

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Censorship as a Political Tool

Article excerpt

CITY officials around the country are engaging in a new wave of censorship. No longer satisfied to ban adult bookstores and movie theaters, local prosecutors are now after more mainstream forms of expression, such as record albums and art exhibits.

In Broward County, Fla., for instance, county judge Mell Grossman responded to a request from the county sheriff and declared 2 Live Crew's new rap record, "As Nasty As They Wanna Be," obscene. Sheriff's deputies immediately threatened to arrest music-store owners who sell the album.

It is likely - in fact it is virtually certain - that any store owner actually charged with selling the album will either not be prosecuted or not be found guilty.

According to the Supreme Court, expression may be banned as obscene only if it fits a restrictive legal definition. "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" may be disgusting, but it isn't legally obscene. Our First Amendment rights to free expression are protected; the system ultimately works. But the victory is not without at least two significant costs.

Acts of local censorship violate the rights of individuals singled out for prosecution. Even though merchants are ultimately not sentenced to jail or to pay heavy fines, they nonetheless spend considerable time and money to defend themselves and often suffer the risk and public opprobrium that accompany criminal actions.

In addition to the loss suffered by individuals, local censorship inhibits free expression, even though the defendants are almost always acquitted. Other records store and bookstore owners censor themselves in an effort to avoid the cost, time, and risk of a criminal trial.

If they are destined to lose in court, why do local prosecutors bring these actions? Most frequently, the actions are brought in response to political pressure. In Florida, Gov. Bob Martinez, waging a desperate reelection campaign, called a news conference lambasting 2 Live Crew's songs and calling on the state prosecutor to go after 2 Live Crew under racketeering laws. …

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