In 1973, five members of the Supreme Court, including the four Nixon appointees, decided a number of important cases in the obscenity area. In one case, the five-man majority concluded that the community standards used to judge whether a work was pornographic should be local standards rather than national ones and that no expert advice was required to prove a magazine or film’s content obscene. In another case, the majority overturned the Warren Court’s test for obscenity, that being whether or not the work was “utterly without redeeming social value”. Now, the Supreme Court tells us that a work must be deemed to have “serious literary, artistic political or scientific value” in order to escape censorship. We are now witnessing the frightening results of these legal decisions in a wave of governmental attacks upon freedom of speech and of the press.
Last year, Screw publisher Al Gold-stein was forced to defend his raunchy and irreverent New York tabloid in Wichita, Kansas because three postal inspectors there subscribed to Screw under phony names so that they could prosecute Goldstein in that state. Although Goldstein’s first felony conviction for sending obscenity through the mails has been overturned, he must stand trial in Wichita again and spend at least another $250,000 to defend himself. If convicted again, Goldstein could go to prison for as long as 60 years! In Memphis, Tennessee, Harry Reems was convicted of a felony merely because he performed in a movie that the government claimed was obscene by Memphis standards of morality. He stands to go to prison for seven years. And most recently, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt was convicted in Ohio for participating in the “organized crime” activity of publishing a magazine that was considered obscene by Cincinnati standards. Flynt was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison. As Herald Price Fahringer, the noted First Amendment authority, has pointed out, these cases “demonstrate how criminal prosecutions can be used as a handy implement to persecute those who publish newspapers and produce films that are objectionable to the State. Free speech simply cannot survive in the face of these totalitarian tactics.”
If the Government succeeds in suppressing such publications as Screw 7 or Hustler, can the attempted suppression of Head, or the New York Times for that matter, be far behind? What right does the government have to dictate what people may read or see (or put in their mouths?) How can any jury anywhere claim to have the omniscience to be able to decide what the standards of taste are going to be for all the people in a given community? Shouldn’t the people who willingly bought or saw these publications or films also be put in jail alongside the publishers and producers? The people who founded this country and enshrined the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights realized that freedom of the press must also protect those ideas and publications that are unconventional or even offensive to many people. I personally don’t care how many people are offended by Head’s frank discussion of drugs or our criticism of this country’s obscene drug laws. These laws must be changed, and for that to happen ignorance and widely held stereotypes must be replaced by facts. In this regard Head will continue to bring you the most complete and useful reporting of the drug scene available.
Charlotte Faye Greenberg
Editor and Publisher
May / June 1977