Georgia county officials consider charging bookseller with obscenity

Thursday, October 22, 1998

A prosecutor in Cobb County, Ga., is considering filing criminal charges of distributing child pornography against the nation's largest bookseller, Barnes & Noble, in the wake of a protest this week from Christian activists.

The activists claim that two photography collections — Radiant Identities by Jock Sturges and Age of Innocence by David Hamilton — contain children in sexually suggestive situations. They are calling for a nationwide boycott of the bookstore chain.

Cobb County solicitor Barry Morgan said he should know by the end of the week if he would press charges.

If Morgan decides to press charges, he will become the third prosecutor this year to take Barnes & Noble to task over the books. Next month, the company faces an Alabama court date on 32 felony counts of disseminating obscene material and possible fines of up to $320,000.

Earlier this year, authorities in Williamson County, Tenn., dropped charges against the bookseller after it agreed to put two books by Sturges and one by Hamilton out of the reach of children.

Barnes & Noble officials said the books have faced challenges in Texas, Maryland, Kansas and Wisconsin but have remained on the shelf.

Protest organizers are refusing to call their effort protests.

“We gave them heaven. It was awesome,” said Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham, national director of Operation Rescue, a group that gained notoriety for its campaign against abortion clinics. “We're bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the gates of hell.”

Benham pledged that the books, which feature naked children and adults in color and black-and-white photos, would come off the shelves.

During their protest Monday, the activists asked the county's Crimes Against Children Unit to investigate. The unit's lead detective asked store managers to remove the books.

“He walked into the place and demanded that they take the books immediately off the shelves until a judge can rule on the case,” Benham said.

Barnes & Noble manager Lynn Rogers said the store kept the books on the shelves.

Another official with Barnes & Noble says the books are not pornographic and that the bookseller leaves purchasing decisions to its customers.

“Our position is that when you're carrying in stock over 75,000 titles in a store, of course there's going to be something that offends someone,” said Vice President Mary Ellen Keating in a statement. “We have received countless requests to stop selling certain books, but we're not in the business of censoring. Our position is that our customers decide what they're going to buy and read.”