Pio Past – ACLU President Defends Pornography

Ben Kunz, News Reporter

The Pioneer published the following article in volume 107 issue 24 on May 1st, 1997. It was written by Jennifer Allen, a Staff Writer.

“Censorship of pornography would be counterproductive to the feminist movement,” ACLU president Nadine Strossen stated to a crowded Chism auditorium Monday at 8 p.m. Strossen, also a Professor of law at New York law school, has published over 100 works on law, and is well-practiced and well-written on constitutional law, Civil liberties and international human rights.

The first woman president of the ACLU, Strossen disagrees that women’s rights will be upheld if pornography is censored. “To say that pornography undermines values is not a strong argument,” she stated.

Censorship, according to her, would cede the government too much power to determine what constitutes pornography. She says it is impossible for people to agree whether images are degrading or not. “Even the Bible is attacked for sexual imagery,” she said.

Strossen expressed her disappointment of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) passed by Clinton in 1996, which purports to protect minors from exposure to indecent materials by preventing its display online.

The ACLU defended Planned Parenthood because the CDA makes it a crime to communicate any online information about abortion.

Strossen recalled how women like Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger were put in prison for spreading information about contraceptives and abortion because of the Comstock Law, passed in the late nineteenth century. It prohibited the international transmission of obscene material ranging from birth control to dirty pictures.

The ACLU, founded in 1920 to protect the First Amendment, defended Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and her communication of sex-related information then banned by the law. “Free speech is essential to women’s rights,” Strossenstated, labeling the CDA a “Victorian-era relic.”

She mentioned the dissenting opinion of Catharine McKennon, a leading activist for censorship, who believes that pornographic images create a culture that deems it permissible for men to treat women as objects, and that pornography causes men to commit sexual crimes.

Strossen explained that many sex offenders claim their innocence by proclaiming that they were under the infuence of pornography when they committed their crime.

Gender-based discrimination, Strossen predicts, will result if pornography becomes illegal. “The prohibition of pornography perpetuates negative stereotypes about men and women. Men are treated like satyrs and women like children,” she commented.

Prohibition of pornography would endanger the men and women who pose for it because they would lose the protection of labor laws, she also warned.

While commending anti-pornography organizations for expressing their freedom of speech, Strossen criticized their use of debasing pictures of women as advocacy tools. She recalled one anti-pornography organization that displayed at a Pennsylvania train station blown-up posters of Hustler magazine’s infamous picture of a woman being shoved into a meat grinder. Ironically, the owners of the station had to throw the protesters out because of the pornography.

A 1972 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe College, and a 1975 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Strossen teaches law two days of the week and travels for five. She gives about 200 speeches a year on campuses, and has lectured abroad in Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, the Philippines, Sweden, Taiwan and South Africa.

The most memorable speech for her was in South Africa. “It was my first time in South Africa and the the country was still under apartheid laws. I spoke about civil liberties and encouraged organizations like the ACLU,” she said.

She is frequently asked to speak on programs such as CBS Today, 20/20 and Crossfire. The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America distinguished her co-authored 1995 book, Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, as an Outstanding Book on Human Rights in North America.

“She made a very strong case against censorship,” Assistant Professor of Politics Philip Brick said.

Sponsored by the Mable Groseclose Lectureship Fund, the lecture was the second in honor of William O. Douglas, a 1920 graduate of Whitman College who is famous as the longest serving associate justice of the United State’s Supreme Courrt and defender of citizens’ civil liberties.