Issue 64, Winter 1996/1997

The Bad News

President Clinton signed the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, which bans the production and sale of sexually explicit material depicting people who "appear to be" children. The new law vastly expands the previous standard that defines child pornography and imposes large penalties for sexually explicit expression that implies that a minor is involved. The amendment was modified to respond to some objections of the Media Coalition that many classical works of art would be banned. Its constitutionality is in serious doubt.

The Military Honor and Decency Act was also signed into law, barring military post exchanges from selling magazines, recordings and videos that "lasciviously" depict nudity. NCAC wrote to members of the conference committee concerned saying, "Our country does not need these ‘decency’ campaigns — by anyone, certainly not by government. We do not want the government to tell us how to read or write or think about our lives, including our sex lives. To many of us, it would be deeply indecent to so dishonor our precious First Amendment freedoms."

The Good News

The National Endowment for the Arts may not consider "general standards of decency," ruled the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming a 1992 federal district court ruling. The case is Finley v. the NEA in which four performance artists — Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes, and Tim Miller — were denied grants by John Frohnmayer, then NEA chair. Their grants were restored with damages. In his ruling, Judge James R. Browning wrote, "Even when the government is funding speech, it may not distinguish between speakers on the basis of the speaker’s viewpoint or otherwise aim at the suppression of ideas…Government funding of the arts, in the circumstances of this case, must be viewpoint-neutral."