Thursday, March 12, 2009

Free Speech and the Comstock Laws

The crusade that was carried out by Anthony Comstock against what he saw as the immoral ongoings that were spreading throughout the United States had far reaching effects outside just the prosecution of pornographers and adult bookstores. After Comstock was deputized as a special agent of the Postal Office, he pretty much had card blanche' to go after any and everyone who's actions did not match well with his own moral compass. He used his position and the passing of the Act for the Suppression of Trade in..... to go after people who published material about abortion or contraception, such as Margret Sanger, as well as people who wanted to publish their ideas about free love. His actions in my opinion greatly encroached on their free speech First Amendment rights. The ability to speak one's mind without fear of prosecution is one of the core values that America was founded on, so the fact that the law was continually upheld by the judicial system all the way up to the 1960's is interesting to me. Comstock in effect used his power to censor and intimidate people into at least publicly going with his moral system. Towards the latter part of his 40 year service as a special agent public opinion did begin to turn against him based on the matter of free speech, the affect of the Comstock Laws continue to be felt to this day in several forms such as regulation of obscenities by the FCC for example.


At 9:48 PM, Blogger A. Mattson said...

A good post. Comstock is a key figure in the history of obscenity law. What doe the role of this private individual and the social movement he represented teach us about the role of private pressure groups in the U.S.? Also, why is it key that his definition of obscenity included not just pornography but also sexual education, contraception, and abortion information?


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