Porn in public libraries: provocative, but protected

Monday, July 23, 2012

There’s an interesting story in The New York Times about viewing pornography in public and the unease it can cause others. It’s a good examination of mores and manners, but doesn’t mention that the reason porn is available in public libraries is that it’s protected under the First Amendment.

Although the public often confuses the two, there’s a difference between obscenity and pornography. Obscenity and child pornography are not protected speech. But pornography — sexually explicit material that doesn’t meet the legal test for obscenity — is beyond government’s reach. That means libraries, as government entities, will typically allow access, although some go to considerable lengths to block screens from passersby.

Like so many issues involving the First Amendment, the speech involved here is provocative, but protected. Still, it’s undeniably unsettling for parents to have to worry that their children may see explicit sex scenes as they walk past terminals in a public library.

It’s unfortunate that more people don’t embrace the philosophy of Lewis Goldberg, an investment manager quoted in the story about why he fast-forwards through violent and sexual scenes: “I’m bringing my media into a public space, and it’s part of my responsibility in a civil society.”

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