Sturges, Hamilton books to remain on store shelves in Cobb County, Ga.

Friday, November 6, 1998

Despite pressure from protesters demanding that Barnes & Noble face child pornography charges, a prosecutor in Cobb County, Ga., this week declined to take the nation's largest bookstore chain to task for carrying the works of Jock Sturges and David Hamilton.

Activists from Operation Rescue last month protested in front of two Barnes & Noble bookstores in Cobb County because the stores kept Sturges' Radiant Identities and Hamilton's Age of Innocence on their shelves. The activists claim the two photographic collections contain children in sexually suggestive positions and should be deemed pornographic and illegal.

But Cobb County Solicitor Barry Morgan said that after reviewing case law on pornography and showing the books to grand jury members, civic groups and other prosecutors, he would not press charges.

Morgan said most community members who saw the books didn't feel they violated state obscenity laws.

The Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham decried Morgan's decision not to prosecute.

“I mean [I am] absolutely outraged simply because the next time a young person, a young child, is taken out in the woods and raped and then dismembered in Cobb County, they are going to remember who is at fault here,” Benham said. “You have thrown the door wide open.”

To successfully prosecute the bookseller, Morgan said he would have had to show that the books “taken as a whole” appealed to the average person's prurient interest and lacked artistic value.

“I can assure you that no one condoned or approved of the material,” Morgan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But there's no doubt that it's quality work. I don't think, taken as a whole, one can say they lack serious artistic value.”

Benham said he can't imagine why Morgan can't prosecute the stores for selling pictures of naked, young girls.

“This is a crime, and we can't prosecute this?” he asked. “God help us, and God forgive us for what is going to happen.”

But Benham said there's hope in Alabama, where Barnes & Noble faces a Nov. 16 court date on 32 felony counts of disseminating obscene material and possible fines of up to $320,000 for selling books by Hamilton and Sturges.

“Hopefully what they do in the great state of Alabama will grant some courage to their neighbor to the east,” he said.

Meanwhile, Benham said Operation Rescue is planning a nationwide boycott and protest against Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble officials applauded Morgan's decision, noting that it follows similar decisions taken by prosecutors in Texas, Maryland, Kansas and Wisconsin.

Gary Schwartz, executive director of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, praised the decision. He said Barnes & Noble has shown leadership in the retail industry for refusing to give in to censorship pressures.

“This decision is important because it will give other chains a precedent,” Schwartz said. “It also shows leadership on [Barnes & Noble's] part to take a stand against groups attempting to curtail artistic expression.”