Are the Republicans Coming For Your Porn?

With a GOP stronghold, porn may come under attack

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Are the Republicans Coming For Your Porn?

The election is over, and while your guns might be safe, America, you better hide your porn. The Republicans are coming! This is not a drill.

Although Red States consume porn at higher rates than Blue, the Republican Party has ironically declared porn a “public health crisis.” According to a provision set in July: “Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.”

Republican delegates unanimously adopted the amendment, which further condemns porn and modifies their 2012 platform language urging active prosecution against child pornography and stating that “current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.”

On the heels of the amendment, then Presidential nominee Trump took a pledge to crack down on pornography if elected President. It’s a confusing state of affairs, because Trump himself has appeared in a softcore porn video, graced the cover of Playboy magazine, and is married to a former nude model.

Post-election, the future of porn and what constitutes free speech is under the microscope, and possibly under attack. The uncertainty has sent ripples through the adult entertainment industry.

“The common sentiment is that the new administration could be less friendly toward adult entertainment,” says Alec Helmy, president of XBiz, the adult entertainment news publisher. However, he remains optimistic that we are unlikely to see renewed intervention given that government has “much bigger fish to fry.”

The Free Speech Coalition (FSC) isn’t taking any chances. A week after Trump’s victory, the organization, which serves as the adult entertainment industry’s trade association, called an “all-hands” meeting. Eric Paul Leue, executive director of the FSC, expressed concerns over the possible actions of an administration that may want to target adult content.

“For the producers in attendance — filmmakers like John Stagliano, who was charged with obscenity by the Bush administration, or anyone who dealt with the busts and raids of the 80s and 90s — names like Ed Meese were potent reminders of what might happen. But right now, that’s still theoretical,” says Leue.

Ed Meese, a high-profile proponent in the Anti-Porn Movement and a member of Trump’s transition team, served as Attorney General during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Under Meese’s direction, the Justice Department attempted to “halt funding for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence on the grounds that it was a ‘pro-lesbian’ group and ruled that employers can discriminate against people with AIDS (or people who have been exposed to HTLV-III) if they believe they are preventing the spread of the disease.”

In 1985, Reagan tasked Meese with setting up a commission to study pornography – a committee largely made up of anti-porn crusaders known to place the Bible before the First Amendment. The commission set out to overturn the findings of a preceding report from presidents Lyndon B. Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, published in 1970 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Stanley v. Georgia) that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. The Johnson-Nixon report recommended less stringent legal restrictions on pornography because there was no evidence to support that exposure to such material was harmful to an individual.

Meese was quick to point out in a press conference following his commission appointments that since 1970, “the content of pornography has radically changed, with more and more emphasis upon extreme violence.” He also stated that, “in any recommendation the commission makes, it will carefully balance the need to control the distribution of pornography with the need to protect very carefully First Amendment freedoms.”

His final report, referred to as the Meese Report, concluded that pornography in varying degrees was in fact harmful to both the individual and society, and, despite his previous assertion, stated that “protecting the First Amendment is something you do by fighting porn because its plausibility is jeopardized when the First Amendment too often becomes the rhetorical device by which the commercial trade in materials directed virtually exclusively at sexual arousal is defended.”

Although the findings were deemed inconclusive by many social scientists and researchers, it didn’t stop the Reagan administration from pursuing obscenity cases at the Federal level including the one against Stagliano.

After a twelve-year Republican front, policy shifted under Bill Clinton’s leadership with the Justice Department devoting more resources to child pornography convictions than adult pornography. Obscenity prosecutions at the Federal level dropped to 20 in 2000 from 44 in 1992 under George H.W. Bush. During the same period, child pornography cases climbed to 563 from 104. Historically, under Democratic administration, pursuing obscenity prosecutions has taken a backseat to focusing on the more critical issue of child exploitation.

Case in point, obscenity once again returned to the spotlight under George W. Bush, when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales created the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. Led by attorney Brent Ward, who waged war on obscenity under the Reagan administration, the committee was dedicated to pursuing obscenity indictments against producers of adult movies and formed after pressure from religious right leaders. Gonzales was hellbent on cracking down on obscenity, making it a top priority and calling it one of the “crimes that tear at the fabric of society.”

When Obama’s democratic administration took over in 2009, obscenity prosecutions all but stalled. Attorney General Eric Holder dissolved Gonazles’s task force in 2011, turning obscenity cases over to the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity section in their criminal division. Before the dissolution, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and 41 other senators, mostly Republicans, sent a letter to Holder urging him to prosecute “all major distributors of adult obscenity.”

We’re now at a crossroads with a soon-to-be Republican administration dominating all branches of government. Their platform has already taken a conservative position, yet whether porn is a “public health crisis” remains debatable.

“Just the fact that some people don’t like sexually explicit material doesn’t make sexually explicit material a public health problem, much less a crisis,” says Katy Zvolerin, Director of Public Relations at Adam & Eve, prominent retailer of adult novelties and videos. “Decades of research has determined that sexually explicit materials depicting consenting adults have benign or positive effects on most adults. The negative effects are rare and are limited to persons that already have violent attitudes or already are anti-female.”

Mike Stabile, communications director of the FSC, suggests porn being labeled a “public health crisis” isn’t based in science, but rather rooted in religious and moral ideologies. He could be on to something.

North Carolina delegate and activist, Mary Forrester, who could not be reached for comment, offered the amended language during the Republican National Convention subcommittee meeting on healthcare, education, and crime. In an interview, Forrester said she worked on the provision with the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America after mounting fears that young people were becoming addicted to porn without understanding the consequences.

Porn is an “insidious epidemic,” according to Forrester, the wife of late Republican Senator James Forrester, who sponsored an anti-gay, anti-family marriage amendment in 2008. That same year, Mrs. Forrester wrote an anti-gay op-ed (The Real Homosexual Agenda), riddled with errors, for the Christian Action League. Faced with enormous backlash, the piece has since been removed from their website.

Whether rooted in ideology or science, obscenity is not considered free speech; therefore, it is not protected by the First Amendment. But the argument over what constitutes obscenity and how it should be regulated continues to plague America. We can all agree that child exploitation needs to be aggressively pursued and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Beyond, the landscape becomes gray and perplexing – the lines between pop culture and adult entertainment are blurred and porn itself is very subjective.

“Porn is in the eye of the beholder,” says Jas Chana, an expert with the National Coalition Against Censorship. “What is considered porn to one, is considered art to another. It’s not for one person to say, and a subjective viewpoint should not be considered unconstitutional.”

So, where does this leave us?

“There are a number of forms obscenity prosecutions might take,” says FSC’s Leue. “Certainly, we might see specific content targeted [via a new task force]. But I think we’re also looking at the possibility that the administration would push for changes of the Communications Decency Act, which would hold platforms, whether Twitter or Reddit or Tumblr, liable for the content uploaded to them. It would have a massive chilling effect, not only on adult content and sexual speech, but on all kinds of speech. And since it would be happening at a corporate level, there wouldn’t be the traditional challenges on a First Amendment basis.”

We could also see a revival of previous porn ban attempts, such as the push for a .xxx domain — a red light district, as Leue calls it, for adult content that could be patrolled or banned; bans on corporate wi-fi; or “opt-in” legislation that would require anyone who wanted to see adult material to call their ISP and specifically request it.

Unlike the Reagan and Bush eras, the adult entertainment industry is now organized and united to fight perceived threats. The FSC has also aligned with the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

Although Trump appears lax on pornography, he has surrounded himself with a team of anti-porn activists and has frequently flip-flopped on issues throughout the election. Vice President-elect and transition team leader, Mike Pence, is known for his strong anti-LGBTQ beliefs. He fought to reallocate AIDS funds in favor of conversion therapy and was a huge proponent for Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill that allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. Also on Trump’s transition team are the notorious Ed Meese, Ken Blackwell of the conservative Family Research Council, and Rudy Giuliani, who spent much of his time as New York City mayor cracking down on porn. In 2013, incoming Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, blamed porn for military sexual assaults.

As we move toward another GOP stronghold, if history is to repeat itself, a new task force and new challenges might be on the horizon. Just to be safe, it’s time to lock away your Pulp Friction with the 22s. The Republicans are coming, America.

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