Two recent events involving public standards of morality were instructive to me. In one, the director and cast of a Conroe, Texas production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” resigned because of the censorship of parts of the script involving curse words and the portrayal of teenage actresses as prostitutes. The other was the Supreme Court decision ruling unconstitutional a law banning “virtual”, or computer-generated, child pornography. What is the common thread here? There are two. One is that for most of our history the Constitution has protected a community’s prerogative to establish standards of public morality. The Conroe case has not, to my knowledge, been litigated and, so far, the community’s prerogative has been sustained. In the virtual porn case, the Court is continuing its disdain for this community prerogative and the democratic process. The second point is that, until recently, the courts recognized a public interest in the moral and ethical development of youth and generally found no objection to the legislating of limitations on exposing minors to pornographic materials. In fact, no less a liberal than Justice William Brennan supported the long-standing view that the principal harm of pornography is its capacity to corrupt and deprave and that there is a government interest in preventing this moral corruption. For an enlightened and perceptive take on these issues as well as other aspects of our natural law heritage and how it has been undermined by our judiciary, I recommend The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality, by Robert P. George.
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