Bookstore goes to court in Alabama obscenity case

Thursday, April 16, 1998

Barnes & Noble Booksellers, the nation's largest bookstore chain, will go to court Friday in Jefferson County, Ala., to face obscenity charges for displaying three art books containing nude photographs of children.

Alabama prosecutors have charged the store under a state law that provides: “Any person who shall knowingly disseminate or display publicly any obscene matter containing a visual reproduction of a person under the age of 17 years engaged in any act of sado-masochistic abuse, sexual intercourse, sexual excitement, masturbation, breast nudity, genital nudity, or other sexual conduct shall be guilty of a Class B felony.”

The bookstore has been indicted on three counts for displaying the books Age of Innocence and Places in the Sun by David Hamilton and Immediate Family by Sally Mann.

Barnes & Noble faces similar charges in Montgomery County, Ala., where a 32-count indictment concerning the display of two books, Radiant Identities by Jock Sturges and Age of Innocence by Hamilton, was handed down. The company also faces charges in Williamson County, Tenn., of violating a harmful-to-minors law.

Attorney Bobby Segall, who represents Barnes & Noble in Alabama, said: “The photos from these books do not violate the state obscenity laws. First of all, the law requires that there be a lewd display of genital or breast nudity. The photos contain nudity, but they are not lewd.

“Furthermore, these photos do not display 'sexual conduct' and have serious artistic value. Under the state law, the photos have to lack serious artistic value,” he said.

Marjorie Heins, director of the ACLU's Arts Censorship Project, criticized the indictment of the bookstore, saying: “The Alabama prosecutors apparently feel it is politically advantageous to prosecute a bookstore for selling art books with nude photographs of children. The material is constitutionally protected because it has serious artistic value. That should the end the inquiry.”

David Michaels, the district attorney handling the Jefferson County case, refused to comment because the case is pending.