Art/Porn, Roger/Me (slightly NSFW)

I’ve been reading Roger Ebert’s blog a lot lately.  As a movie critic, I’ve never been a big Roger Ebert fan; I’m more partial to Richard Roeper.  But, as writer, Ebert blows me away.  A superior stylist with interesting ideas is difficult to find.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours reading Ebert’s blog entry on Hugh Hefner and the reader comments that followed.  Some comments are critical, some are laudatory, some are a little of both.  Personally, I thought the blog entry was interesting and that it raises some important points about the often-overlooked positive effect that Playboy and Hefner have had on American culture.  I also think that Ebert is whitewashing a little bit.  Like any institution, Playboy has both good and bad points, and like any person, Hefner has his share of character flaws.  But, in the end, I agree with Ebert’s thesis that Playboy and Hefner have had positive effects. Continue reading

Posted in courts and judges, entertainment, first amendment, free speech, obscenity | Leave a comment

Now, about this Sharia law…

Oklahoma voters acted just in time to avoid this calamity.

Meet the new blog.  Same as the old blog, but with a more expansive focus.

Actually, it’s the same focus as before; I’m just admitting it now.

I’m blogging again for a variety of reasons, but a big one is my increasing concern about the dangerous and thoughtless intermingling of religion and politics in American society.  I was worried about it two years ago. I’m terrified of it now.

So, let’s start with a relatively tame issue.  Last week, Oklahoma’s voters approved a ballot measure to amend their state constitution to forbid courts from “considering or using international law” and from “considering or using Sharia law.” Continue reading

Posted in courts and judges, first amendment, Religion, Religious Freedom | Leave a comment

Are Lawmakers Listening to the Real America?

Last week the First Amendment Center released its annual State of the First Amendment survey.  Lots of First Amendment folks have already weighed in their analysis, but I have some different takes on what the results mean.

First, it seems to me that religion continues to become an increasingly polarizing factor in our society:  28%of respondents said that Americans have “too little” religious freedom, up from 24% last year.  Meanwhile, only 62% of respondent thought that Americans’ religious freedom is “about right”—the lowest level since the survey started in 1997.

Perhaps more significantly, 29% of respondents said that the First Amendment was not intended to protect “extreme” or “fringe” religious groups—the highest number since the survey started.  And only 54% (the lowest number in the history of the survey) thought that religious freedom is supposed to apply equally to all religious groups.

The growing religious rift is even more apparently when questions on religion are compared with similar questions on non-religious topics.  Specifically, 42% percent of respondents either strongly or mildly agreed that people shouldn’t be allowed to make public statements that are offensive to someone else’s religion.  In contrast, only 33% of respondents thought that songs with offensive lyrics should be restricted.

Second, after carefully reviewing the results of the survey, I can’t help but wonder who lawmakers are catering to when then pass laws that restrict adult businesses and sexually explicit speech.  For the most part, the majority of the responses appear to be moderate or downright progressive.  There certainly doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming majority in favor of more censorship.

Could it be that the lawmakers who are constantly proposing new censorship measures and adult business restrictions are cynically pandering to a pro-censorship minority because know that those people will vote for them on a single issue?

Posted in first amendment, free speech, legislators, Politics, Religion, Religious Freedom | Leave a comment

Free Speech vs. Freedom of Religion (or Just a Tax Dodge)?

James Dobson smiles as he thinks about how the First Amendment only applies to him and his friends. His solid gold tie was subsidized by taxpayers' money by virtue of the tax-free status of his "ministry."

Today was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when pastors around the country defied the IRS by endorsing political candidates during their sermons.  The event is sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, which appears to be formed of the usual suspects of conservative Christianity.  The details of the event can be found in the organization’s white paper, which actually does a pretty good job of setting forth the issues involved.

In a nutshell, since 1954 the U.S. Tax Code has prohibited non-profit organizations from endorsing candidates for political office if they want to maintain their tax free status.  Since churches are non-profits under the Tax Code, pastors cannot endorse candidates from the pulpit.  The ADF believes that these provisions of the tax code violate churches’ rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, so they are apparently planning to create a test case.

The ADF’s position is interesting, but the legal merits are dubious.  First, churches are not constitutionally entitled to tax free status.  While it might be a problem for the government to create a tax that only applies to churches, it would not run afoul of the First Amendment if churches were subjected to general taxes.  For example, church bookstores have to charge sales tax on the items that they sell—just like any other business–and it’s not unconstitutional. Continue reading

Posted in courts and judges, first amendment, free speech, Politics, Religion, Religious Freedom, sex and religion, taxes | 3 Comments

Fixing Problems That Don't Exist

A few months ago, I wrote about uncharacteristic examples of good sense by the city governments of Yakima, Washington and North Platte, Nebraska.  Both cities had seemingly dropped attempts to enact ordinances to restrict existing and new adult novelty retailers.  Well, I spoke too soon.

Yakima has apparently brought the idea up again, although they are at least planning to grandfather existing businesses.  Grandfathering is not a perfect solution, however, because it will probably have adverse effects on the abilities of those business to expand or transfer their ownership.

North Platte has recently passed its law.  The North Platte situation seems more serious because it apparently wouldn’t make any exceptions for existing businesses, and the restrictions on being within 1,000 feet of a residence could directly affect one family’s home-based business.

Litigation is likely to ensue, so I’m offering my free and completely unsolicited advice to both sides.

For business owners:

  • Make sure that your lawyer has read all of the briefings in the Doctor John’s v. City of Roy, Utah and that your lawyer does a better job than Doctor John’s lawyers did.
  • If your business has been open for some time and has a history, do everything you can to keep the city from relying on studies of businesses in other cities.  The secondary effects of your business of your city can be scientifically measured.  It doesn’t make any sense to rely on studies of other businesses located somewhere else
  • Hire a good expert early.  Yes, they are expensive.  But losing your case is even more expensive.

For the city council members

Think about this carefully.  Do you really want to go through long hours of depositions and expend tens of thousands of the city’s already inadequate funds to appease a few people who believe that sexy lingerie and vibrators are going to corrupt their children?  They have no facts or credible studies on their side, while the businesses that you are trying to get rid of have an established history of not causing problems, boosting the local economy, and helping some of your citizens support their families.

Even if you win this litigation, your town will lose.

Oh, and read Dr. Marty Klein’s book America’s War on Sex.   It will really make you wonder why you ever thought these ordinances were a good idea.

Posted in adult novelties, first amendment, legislators, Politics, secondary effects, zoning regulations | Leave a comment

A Weird (But, Sadly, Typical) Take on the First Amendment

This isn’t the most recent item in my list of blog topics, but it’s probably the shortest.  Earlier this month, Mary Belk, a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News in Alabama wrote about her belief that the First Amendment has become and “out-of-control, inflamed boil.”  Her basis for this belief?  Internet pornography and blogs, naturally.

Her take on blogs is especially interesting.  She seems to believe that the populist nature of blogs is something that the Founding Fathers never anticipated when they put freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the First Amendment.  Now that it has become so simple to publish your own blog, she reasons, the First Amendment has unworkable. Continue reading

Posted in first amendment, Internet Media, Journalism, print media | Leave a comment

Tenth Circuit, Aided by Terrible Briefing, Gets It Wrong

Brigham Young on Sexual Propriety

I have a soft spot for the 10th Circuit.  I started practicing in Kansas, which is in the 10th, and I spent several years reading opinions that came out of Denver.  It was always my impression that the 10th Circuit, while not particularly famous for spectacular legal reasoning, has more than its fair share of common sense.  A decision that came out last week, however, has me rethinking my opinion.

The case is Doctor John’s v. Roy City, Utah, and it involves a store that sold adult videos, books and novelties that opened near Salt Lake City in a town that, at the time, didn’t have any specific statutes governing adult businesses.  After the store opened, however, the city enacted a special licensing process for SOBs and asked the store to file for a new business permit. Continue reading

Posted in adult novelties, adult video, courts and judges, first amendment, legislators, print media, secondary effects, Video, viewpoint discrimination, zoning regulations | 1 Comment

I Am Literally Nauseous

Every American should watch this video, especially if you consider yourself a conservative.

With apologies to Martin Niemöller:

When they came for the pornographers,
I remained silent;
Portraying sex is dirty and wrong, and obscenity should be eradicated.

When they stopped teachers from teaching birth control in school,
I remained silent;
I thought protecting children from knowing about sex would keep them pure.

When they detained and tortured “enemy combatants,”
I did not speak out;
I didn’t think it was wrong to sacrifice their rights so that I could feel a little safer.

When they came for the journalists and the bloggers,
I remained silent;
Those people all hated America anyway.

When they came for me,
No one was allowed to speak out.

Posted in first amendment, Internet Media, Journalism, Technology, Video | Leave a comment

The Big "Sex and Religion" Post

Regular readers of my blog already know that I write a lot about sex and religion.  It is even one of the categories for my posts.  On several occasions, the original drafts of many of my posts went off on long tangents analyzing the ridiculousness of modern Christianity and its bizarre relationship to religion.  But I always ended up deleting those tangents—mostly because, strictly speaking, they aren’t “legal” issues that are the focus of this blog.

Recently, however, I’ve had some conversations in which it became clear to me that people jump to conclusions about my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) based on the industry that I have chosen to represent.  Afterward, when I thought about theses conversations, I realized that they parallel—in many ways—the rash of legal challenges that are currently facing adult retailers and other adult businesses.  I also realized that the time has come for me to share some personal information about myself. Continue reading

Posted in first amendment, Politics, Religion, sex and religion | Leave a comment

Going on Vacation…Major Post Coming Soon

Amy and I are leaving tomorrow with the kids (all six!) to go to Pensacola for a week.  I’m going to try to write a major post while we’re away.  Assuming, of course, that I can pull myself away from the beach.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments