Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth

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Not in Front of the Children
Painting of celestial beings, covered with censorship stickers
Book jacket
Author Marjorie Heins
Original title Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth
Country United States
Language English
Subject Freedom of speech
Genre Human rights
Published Hill & Wang
Publication date
May 2001
Media type Hardcover
Pages 402
Awards Eli M. Oboler Award (2002)
ISBN 978-0374175450
OCLC 45080058
LC Class 00047274

Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth is a non-fiction book by attorney and civil libertarian Marjorie Heins about freedom of speech and the relationship between censorship and the "think of the children" argument. The book presents a chronological history of censorship from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages to the present. It discusses notable censored works, including Ulysses by James Joyce, Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence and the seven dirty words monologue by comedian George Carlin. Heins discusses censorship aimed at youth in the United States through recent legislation, including the Children's Internet Protection Act and the Communications Decency Act.

The author explores the question of whether children and adolescents are negatively impacted by exposure to media deemed inappropriate by adults (including violence and pornography), arguing that youths are not endangered by sexually-explicit material. Heins asserts that there is no simple tactic by which the government can censor material from children without violating rights guaranteed adults by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. She points out that although the view of sexually-explicit material's negative impact on children is unproven, the fear of its impact is used to support morality-based arguments; however, appeals to morality should not be a basis for censorship. Not in Front of the Children concludes that censorship under the auspices of protecting youth actually harms them by the censorship itself.

Not in Front of the Children received the Eli M. Oboler Award in 2002 from the American Library Association as the "Best Published Work on Intellectual Freedom". Booklist recommended it as a starting point for discussion between adolescents and adults. Library Journal recommended the book for academic and public libraries as a detailed history of censorship related to "indecent" media. Publishers Weekly called the book a significant work in the fields of child psychology and civil liberties. In Florida, the St. Petersburg Times praised the book as an engaging look at attempts to prevent adolescents from thinking about sexuality. However, The American Prospect criticized Heins' presentation style, calling the book boring.

Background[edit]

Author Marjorie Heins, an attorney with a focus on civil liberties,[1] received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1967.[1]

She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, receiving a juris doctor degree in 1978.[1] At the time of the book's publication, Heins was director of the Free Expression Policy Project at the National Coalition Against Censorship.[2][3]

Her prior published books include Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza (1972),[4][5] Cutting the Mustard: Affirmative Action and the Nature of Excellence (1987)[6][7] and Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America’s Censorship Wars (1993).[8][9] After Not in Front of the Children was published, Heins wrote Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge[10] (which received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award) in 2013.[11][12][13]

Before publication the book's working title was Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency" in History, Politics, and Law,[14] and it was first published in 2001 by Hill & Wang.[15][16] Heins' original book included about 300 pages of material, with an additional-notes section over 100 pages long.[17] A paperback edition from the same publisher was released in 2002,[18] and Rutgers University Press published paperback and e-book editions in 2007,[19][20][21] A European edition was published in 2008.[22]

Summary[edit]

Blue cover of report
The Meese Report (1986)

Not in Front of the Children is a history of censorship from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages to the present.[2][23][24] The Meese Report (by the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography) acquired its colloquial name because the panel was selected by U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese.[25] Released in 1986, the report decried pornography's alleged harm to women and children.[25] Heins examines the Comstock laws, promulgated by Anthony Comstock in 1873, which criminalized the mailing of "immoral writings".[26] Examples of censored works include James Joyce's Ulysses, D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and comedian George Carlin's seven dirty words monologue.[2][17][26] Recent censorship issues detailed in the book include Howard Stern and the Columbine High School massacre,[24] and the author critiques A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit and Mothers Organized for Moral Stability (MOMS).[23] The author discusses censorship aimed at youth in recent U.S. legislation, including the Children's Internet Protection Act and Communications Decency Act.[2]

Heins examines the question of whether children and adolescents are negatively impacted by exposure to violence and pornography,[17][27] contending that youth are not endangered by sexually-explicit material.[27] She believes that censorship of such material from adolescents is based on the idea that minors are innocent and exposure to inappropriate media would corrupt them, explaining how this belief has been used as a basis for censorship.[27] Heins explores whether the government or parents should restrict children's access to potentially-inappropriate material, believing that the decision should rest primarily with parents.[28] She writes that there is no simple tactic by which government can censor material from children without violating First-Amendment rights guaranteed to adults: "Fitting art, literature, and entertainment into neat categories for purposes of prohibitions or ratings, inevitably falls victim to highly subjective, discretionary decision making that reflects the ideological and personal predilections of the censors and classifiers."[17]

Man in judicial robes
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote a dissenting opinion in Ginsberg v. New York.

The author believes that determinations of what should be censored from whom should not be made by the government,[28] stressing that a society must ensure that there is a tangible negative impact on youth from certain material before imposing censorship: "Given the overwhelming difficulty in even defining what it is we want to censor, and the significant costs of censorship to society and to youngsters themselves, we ought to be sure that real, not just symbolic, harm results from youthful pursuit of disapproved pleasures and messages before mandating indecency laws, Internet filters and other restrictive regimes."[17]

Not in Front of the Children explores the development of U.S. case law with different standards of censorship for children and adults.[27] The author describes a 1968 Supreme Court of the United States case, Ginsberg v. New York, where the court upheld a law preventing minors from viewing sexually-explicit media.[27] Sam Ginsberg and his wife managed a diner in Bellmore, New York;[27] a mother sent her 16-year-old son to buy two "girlie" magazines, creating a situation where Ginsberg would be prosecuted.[27] Ginsberg was convicted of violating a New York State law which forbade selling magazines with pictures of nude women to minors.[27] The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Ginsberg's conviction,[27] ruling that the New York State Legislature was not required to prove a tangible negative impact on youth from exposure to sexually-explicit material; it only needed to assume that such an impact existed.[27] Justice William O. Douglas wrote a dissenting opinion in the case,[27] criticizing the New York law: "If rationality is the measure of the validity of this law, then I can see how modern Anthony Comstocks could make out a case for "protecting' many groups in our society, not merely children."[27] He concluded, "The "juvenile delinquents' I have known are mostly over 50 years of age."[27]

Heins demonstrates how lawmakers in other states used the Ginsberg v. New York ruling to increase morality-based censorship of material from children.[27] A year after the ruling, an Ohio court determined that Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was inappropriate for youth.[27] The author explains the dangers in allowing the government to determine appropriate material for youth to view, pointing out that the belief in sexually-explicit material's negative impact on children is unproven.[27] Heins notes that the fear of this impact is used to support morality-based arguments, and appeals to morality should not be a basis for censorship.[27] Not in Front of the Children concludes that censorship under the auspices of protecting youth actually harms them through the censorship itself.[24]

Reception[edit]

Not in Front of the Children received the 2002 Eli M. Oboler Award from the American Library Association,[29][30][31] as the "best published work" on the subject of intellectual freedom.[30][31] Booklist called it "a demanding but involving overview of a much-debated issue"; analyzing the book's appropriateness for young adults, it concluded: "There's much here for adult/teen discussion and debate."[2] In its review, the Library Journal said: "Attorney Heins ... has written a well-researched and thoughtful review of the history of censorship of 'indecent' materials ... In conclusion, she makes a well-reasoned argument that censorship in the name of children harms them more than it helps",[24] recommending the book "for public and academic libraries"[24] and a lecture by the author on her book "a must."[32] Publishers Weekly also reviewed the book favorably: "Wouldn't Edward Lear have been startled to learn that in 1998 his poem 'The Owl and the Pussycat' wasn't available on many school library computers because obscenity-sensitive Web searches had targeted the word 'pussy'? Heins ... argues potently that the age-old idea of protecting children from 'corrupting' influences—which can be traced at least as far back as Plato's Republic—has reached dangerous proportions in the U.S.",[23] concluding, "Heins's historical argument makes an important contribution to the literature of civil liberties and child psychology."[23] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recommended Heins' study for summer nonfiction reading in its "Family Matters" section,[33] and it was called "a thorough exploration of our national preoccupation with repressing the sexual thoughts of youth" by the St. Petersburg Times.[27] The Hollywood Reporter noted that Heins made an important distinction in arguing that taboo topics should be taught to children by their parents, and it should not be the role of government to censor what material individuals are allowed to view (or speak).[28]

In The New York Times, journalist Michael Massing felt that the author's view on contemporary free-speech issues (her stance on limiting censorship, and her view that little television programming could cause harm to children) was extreme,[26] and The American Prospect criticized the author's presentation style: "Heins's confidence in her convictions is, no doubt, what makes her a good civil-liberties litigator and advocate, but it also makes her a dull historian. Her history of obscenity rulings reads like a comic-book clash between intrepid constitutional heroes—those circumspect judges, dispassionate social scientists, and fearless crusaders willing to speak up for the truth, no matter how unpopular—and their moralizing enemies eager to sacrifice First Amendment freedoms on the altar of righteousness."[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Marjorie Heins Bio". The Free Expression Policy Project (fepproject.org). 2014. Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Carroll, Mary (May 15, 2001). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". Booklist 97 (18): 1713. ISSN 0006-7385. OCLC 1536781. 
  3. ^ Savage, Todd (February 5, 2002). "Beware the cyber censors: Internet filters help ensure some gay and lesbian youths stay in the dark about their sexual orientation". The Advocate (Regent Media). p. 32. 
  4. ^ Heins, Marjorie (1972). Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza. Ramparts Press. ISBN 978-0878670109. 
  5. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza". WorldCat (OCLC 554280). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  6. ^ Heins, Marjorie (1987). Cutting the Mustard: Affirmative Action and the Nature of Excellence. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0571129744. 
  7. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Cutting the Mustard: Affirmative Action and the Nature of Excellence". WorldCat (OCLC 15653313). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  8. ^ Heins, Marjorie (1993). Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars. The New Press. ISBN 978-1565840485. 
  9. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars". WorldCat (OCLC 27684873). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  10. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge". WorldCat (OCLC 794040387). Retrieved February 27, 2014. 
  11. ^ Business Wire (May 15, 2013). "Winners Announced for 2013 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, Inc). Retrieved February 27, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Winners and Judges of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards". Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards (HMH Foundation). 2014. Retrieved February 27, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Marjorie Heins wins 2013 Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award!". From the Square (NYU Press). May 15, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  14. ^ Heins, Marjorie (August 7, 2000). "Helmsmanship in the Arts". The Nation 271 (5): 35. 
  15. ^ Heins, Marjorie (2001). Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency", Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth. Hill & Wang. ISBN 978-0374175450. 
  16. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". WorldCat (OCLC 45080058). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Platt, Leah (August 27, 2001). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". The American Prospect 12 (15): 45. ISSN 1049-7285. OCLC 21286339. 
  18. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". WorldCat (OCLC 50069042). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  19. ^ Heins, Marjorie (2007). Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency", Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813542218. 
  20. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". WorldCat (OCLC 276989327). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  21. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". WorldCat (OCLC 703222902). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  22. ^ Online Computer Library Center (2014). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". WorldCat (OCLC 183917624). Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  23. ^ a b c d "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". Publishers Weekly 248 (8): 76. February 19, 2001. ISSN 0000-0019. OCLC 728410168. 
  24. ^ a b c d e Charles, Harry (February 15, 2001). "Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth". Library Journal 126 (3): 185. ISSN 0363-0277. OCLC 36096783. 
  25. ^ a b Martin Merzer; Itabari Njeri (September 25, 1986). "Censorship on rising tide across U.S.A. words and thoughts under greater attack". The Miami Herald (Florida). p. 1A. 
  26. ^ a b c Massing, Michael (August 25, 2001). "Children and the demons of pop culture". The New York Times. p. B9. 
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Blumner, Robyn E. (May 13, 2001). "Moralists wrongfully punish youth for being curious about sex". St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Florida: Tampa Bay Times). Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  28. ^ a b c Boliek, Brooks (February 10, 2004). "Super Bowl flap makes NFL, CBS look like boobs". The Hollywood Reporter 382 (26): 12. 
  29. ^ "Winners". Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award (American Library Association). 2014. Archived from the original on October 15, 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  30. ^ a b "The Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award". Eli M. Oboler Library (Idaho State University). 2014. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2014. "The Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award is sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) of the American Library Association. The biennial award ... is presented for the 'best published work in the area of intellectual freedom.'" 
  31. ^ a b "Civil liberties lawyer Marjorie Heins will deliver U-M lecture on academic and intellectual freedom". State News Service (Ann Arbor, Michigan: InfoTrac). October 8, 2013. "Her previous book, "Not in Front of the Children: 'Indecency,' Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth," won the American Library Association's Eli Oboler Award for Best Published Work on Intellectual Freedom in 2002." 
  32. ^ Berry, John (June 1, 2002). "Program picks & pans: ALA members come to Atlanta June 13–19 for its annual rites: professional renewal, lobbying, partying, and schmoozing. (Atlanta ALA 2002)". Library Journal (Library Journals, LLC. A wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.) 127 (10): 60. "Intellectual Freedom – Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency" Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth – ALA IFRT. Sat., Jun. 15, 1:30–3:30 p.m. First Amendment lawyer Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project and recipient of the 2002 Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award, will talk about her book (named in the program title), her years as an ACLU attorney, and what she learned from researching the cultural and political origins of indecency and obscenity law. A must." 
  33. ^ O'Briant, Don (May 20, 2001). "Nonfiction \ Summer Reading". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. p. C4. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]