II. Introduction

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
7

Citizen interest in pornography control is a vital component of any local law enforcement program. Since one aspect of the constitutional test for obscenity is the notion of contemporary community standards, this is an area of the law which presents a significant opportunity for public input.

Citizens concerned about pornography in their community should initially determine the nature and availability of pornographic materials in their community, existing prosecution policies, law enforcement practices and judicial attitudes in the community. They should inquire whether these enforcement mechanisms are adequately utilized. They should determine whether the official perception of the current community standards is truly a reflection of public opinion. If enforcement mechanisms appear inadequate or ineffective, if legislative change is necessary to enhance the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, or if the volume of pornography or offensive material is a particular problem in the community, citizens should consider developing a community action program.

A successful community action program should contain the following components:

  1. Sincere citizen interest in controlling the proliferation of pornographic material in their community;
  2. A police department that is willing to allocate a reasonable portion of its resources to obscenity enforcement;
  3. A prosecutor who, in keeping with his or her oath of office, will aggressively pursue violations of obscenity statutes with due regard for the right to distribute constitutionally protected material;
  4. A judiciary that is responsive to obscenity violations and will sentence offenders appropriately.

Additional methods by which community action organizations can express their concern about pornography in their community include.

  1. Citizen involvement in educating legislators, law enforcement officials and the public at large as to the impact of pornography on their particular community;
  2. Citizen action in the area of lawful economic boycotts and picketing of establishments which produce, distribute or sell sexually explicit materials in the community;
  3. If the techniques of anti-display and nuisance laws as well as zoning ordinances are determined to be appropriately tailored to the pornography problem in their community, citizens are encouraged to advocate any measures to their local legislators; and
  4. A business community that exercises sound judgment as to the effect on the community they serve of material offered in their establishment.

In the area of pornography regulation it is important that the above items be seriously addressed and effectively coordinated. The best written laws will be ineffective if prosecutors do not enforce them or if judges fail to recognize the extent of citizen concern when sentencing offenders. The goals of the community effort against pornography should be to establish constitutionally sound obscenity laws that meet their particular needs, to encourage adequate enforcement of these laws and to use private action to curb the flow of pornography and obscenity in their community.

At the same time, citizens should be aware of the risks of an overzealous approach. First, citizens should recognize that there are a diversity of views as to what, if any, regulations should be imposed on pornographic material. The United States Supreme Court has established definitional guidelines for obscenity, which are discussed elsewhere in the Report, but not without considerable division of opinion. Undoubtedly, diversity of views regarding regulations, enforcement priorities and appropriate community action will exist to varying degrees in each community. These views should be recognized and addressed by citizen advocates.

In maintaining a balanced approach, citizens should be aware of the legal criteria for distinguishing material which is obscene from that which is merely distasteful to some. However, citizen groups may wish to focus on materials which are not legally obscene and which are constitutionally protected from government regulation. Citizens may pursue a variety of private actions with respect to this non-obscene but offensive pornographic material.

It is also important for citizen activists to recognize the rights of other individuals and organizations when exercising their own. Advocates of strict enforcement of pornography laws should recognize the rights of individuals with opposing views. Moreover, while citizens have every right to picket, the pickets should not preclude others from entering or leaving business premises.

Finally, community action groups should guard against taking extreme or legally unsound, positions or actions, such as unfounded attacks on the content of school reading lists, library shelves and general discussions of sex-related topics. With respect to their communications with a public official, members of citizen action groups should also be aware that such officials keep duty bound to determine the legality of material without regard to that official's personal opinion.

The decision to form or support a citizen action group is one that must be made by each community and participating individuals. If a decision is reached to establish such a group, its members should become involved in advocating, establishing and maintaining community standards related to pornography. The following discussion highlights ways in which citizens can maximize their efforts in this regard while recognizing competing constitutionally protected interests. The suggestions which have been developed were prompted by hundreds of telephone calls and tens of thousands of letters from concerned citizens seeking advice on how to address the pornography issue.