Published July 1973 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd High Court Obscenity Ruling Was Needed The action taken by the U.S. Supreme Court to curb the tide of pornography that was engulfing our country should be supported by a majority of the American people. The decision reflected widespread public indignation over the rampant permissiveness that allowed the commercial exploitation of sex to proliferate all across our land. The Justice Department had already been moving against the smut peddlers who cross state lines to merchandise their sleazy wares. Federal grand juries have returned indictments in several places against distributors of obscene films and theater owners who screen them. The trials, which had been held up awaiting the Supreme Court decision, hopefully will proceed quickly. Just as forthright action by the Federal Communications Commission forced the offensive sex-oriented "topless radio" shows off the air, so should the lower courts act to implement the high court's obscenity ruling. A crackdown should be pushed on hardcore sex films, lurid printed material, dirty "peep shows," "massage parlors," "nude bars," and other such socially-undesirable establishments. Not only does public morality and the protection of our children from such influences make the action necessary, the fact that in a number of places the mushrooming smut bu'3iness has become a lucrative operation for the underworld also makes it imperative. It is estimated that the merchandising of obscenity in this country was grossing between $500 million and $2 billion a year before the Supreme Court decision. Much of the confusion about obscenity-and, in fact, much of the growth of the pornography business resulted from the difficulty that the Court in previous decisions experienced in attempting to set guidelines as to what is permissible and what is not under the First Amendment. The present Court avoided that pitfall by largely leaving the matter up to the states and localities. The right of free expression in America, of course, must be upheld. It must be recognized, also, that what may be thought obscene by one person may not be so considered by another. But there is an obvious difference between hard-core pornography, with its basic appeal to prurient interest only, and serious art and literature that seek to portray and explain human nature and behavior. A precise definition of that difference may be difficult, but the recognition of it is easy for most persons.