Memo to Indiana: Porn=Shakespeare=Free Speech

Count Indiana among the hated Axis of Evil.

In countries like North Korea, Iran, and Libya, individuals and organizations have been required to register communication tools like modems and cell phones with the government. Such countries want to know exactly who has the capacity to express “dangerous” ideas.

The state of Indiana has recently added itself to this illustrious honor roll. The legislature has passed a law requiring businesses to register and pay a $250 fee if they sell any “sexually explicit material.”

That would include Salinger’s “Catcher In the Rye,” episodes of “NYPD Blue” the FCC has labeled indecent, and reproductions of Michelangelo’s “David,” whose world-famous arms, legs, face, and hands come burdened with a world-famous penis.

The law’s sponsor claims that it’s intended to reduce the availability of porn—a dubious goal at best (and unconstitutional, according to a group suing the state, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers). So busting the ballet or opera shouldn’t be a problem, says State Representative Terry Goodin, because “Individuals, corporations, companies know whether or not they’re selling pornography.”

Tell that to broadcasters who wouldn’t air “Saving Private Ryan” last Memorial Day for fear the FCC would bankrupt them with “indecency” fines.

But the inclusion of high-class erotic stuff isn’t what makes the Indiana law destructive and unAmerican—it just highlights the problem of deciding which expression deserves legal protection whenever a legislature attempts to say that some of it does and some of it doesn’t.

The answer, according to our Constitution, is that it all does, or none of it does.

This is hard for some people to understand or approve of. So let’s say it clearly: in the radical American political system, the right to express ideas is singled out as sacred, protected above all others.

Every American’s right to say, write, paint, dance, sing, film, and otherwise express an idea is protected, regardless of the content of the idea. And the more people object to the content of the idea, the more firmly it must be protected.

All the rest, as Rabbi Hillel said 20 centuries ago, is commentary.


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