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Stanton Anti-Porn Tactic Community's Real Threat

February 05, 1989

Sometimes the medicine is more deadly than the disease, which is usually the case in most misguided attempts to stamp out pornography. The situation in the city of Stanton's 4-year effort to drive an adult bookstore out of town was in that category.

Fortunately, the state's 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday put an end to Stanton's assault of the First Amendment by declaring the ordinance regulating the business to be unconstitutional.

The decision was not so much a victory for the bookstore as it was for the First Amendment right of free speech.

We can sympathize with the public officials, residents and clergymen who for the past 4 years have been trying to force out the bookstore they believe peddles pornography in the sexually explicit material it sells.

But neither government nor any individual, no matter how well-meaning, has any business trying to determine--or restrict--what books or films adults can read or see. That decision must always be left to the individual.

Whether or not the material the bookshop sells is pornographic is not the question, or the danger. The books, magazines, toys and videotapes that the store sells are available only to consenting adults who come to the store seeking it out. The material is not foisted on any unsuspecting adult and is not available to minors. The real issue, and biggest threat to the community, was the city's attempts at censorship and restricting freedom of speech and choice through a series of council actions that the appellate judges branded as a "Keystone Cop legislative chase of (EarMark Books owner Ginger) Cox's sex shop."

Cities have the right to set zoning laws. But they cannot be allowed to make those laws so restrictive that they would make it virtually impossible for an otherwise legal operation to remain in business. That seemed to be precisely what Stanton was trying to do. And the appellate court rightfully would have no part of it.

Ironically, most of the public opposes that approach. In a Times survey last month, only 35% of the people polled favored a ban on the rental of X-rated movies in home video stores. Pornography is not very popular, but even less desirable are misguided efforts to restrict it through censorship.

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