NCAC Censorship News Issue #67:

Fall 1997

In a renewed crusade against expression, self-appointed moralists in Oklahoma are again pressuring local prosecuting attorneys to sanitize the local libraries, video and convenience stores—tagging for police allegedly obscene books, magazines, comic books, films, and stores “trafficking in obscenity.”

The Academy Award-winning film, The Tin Drum, is among the literary and entertainment materials seized by Oklahoma City police under pressure from Oklahomans for Children and Families (OCAF), an organization started in the 1960’s as Oklahomans Against Pornography. The Tin Drum, a searching film about a weird child observing and coping with the grotesque aberrations of life in Nazi Germany, was removed from the City library and six video stores after a county judge—in an off-the record opinion—concurred with OCAF’s charge that the film is “obscene.” At least one copy of The Tin Drum was confiscated from the home of a private citizen (a staff member of the ACLU!) by police who obtained his name from a video store. The ACLU of Oklahoma and the Video Software Dealers Association have brought suit against the City for violating the First and Fourth Amendments and the Federal Videotape Privacy Protection Act.

Seizure of The Tin Drum came two weeks after police had arrested employees of several convenience stores in the county on charges of selling allegedly obscene magazines. While those charges have been dropped, retailers in the City have been warned that it is “illegal” to distribute any magazine depicting nudity other than Playboy and Penthouse.

Another victim of the anti-smut crusade, Planet Comics and Science Fiction Store, closed in March, after two years of harassment resulting from charges against the owners for trafficking, selling and displaying “obscene” comic books. The police raid on the store and subsequent eviction by the landlord, on the complaint of a member of the Christian Coalition in conjunction with OCAF, resulted in plummeting sales when customers could not find its new location. A local religious group has taken credit for the store’s demise. The case, involving serious charges carrying lengthy prison terms, took an unexpected turn when the store owners pleaded guilty to reduced charges. In return they were granted a three-year deferred prison sentence and a fine of $1500 each. They will serve no jail time and their records will be cleared if they have no convictions in the next three years. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, while relieved that the owners’ ordeal was over, expressed concern about the “violation of their rights as Americans under the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution,” and the chilling effect the conviction will have on creative freedom.

OCAF is not acting alone in its censorship crusade. It is joined by Family Friendly Libraries, which has ties to the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and the American Family Association, all national groups seeking to make their moral and religious values a national creed. Family Friendly Libraries’ mission is to replace the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights supporting intellectual freedom with one of their own, to restrict children’s access to books they consider not “family friendy.” Falling into that category, according to FFL, is any material that does not emphasize the “superiority” of the traditional family—“mother and father, married to each other, committed to a lifetime monogamous relationship and caring responsibly together for their children.” As part of its national campaign, FFL has been waging war on the Oklahoma Metropolitan Libraries since 1996. Books the group has earmarked as unsuitable for children include three by Robert Cormier, Beyond the Chocolate War, We All Fall Down, and Fade; It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris, and Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy.

The campaign for suppression is extending well beyond Oklahoma with similar attacks on libraries in Medina, Ohio; Mexico, Missouri; and Oneida, New York.

NCAC has taken a lead role in mobilizing free expression advocates, and in informing the press in Oklahoma and nationwide. Along with the National Campaign for Free Expression, The Freedom to Read Foundation, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, more than 50 artists, writers, producers, librarians, educators and religious leaders and organizations representing them released a statement protesting the seizure of The Tin Drum.

A group of Oklahoma anti-censorship activists is working to form a coalition to make the point that those who are looking to suppress what people may read, think and hear are not representative of Oklahomans. NCAC and the Media Coalition are assisting. Let us know of any Oklahomans who may want to join the local group to protect the right of free expression.