Many Americans falsely assume that the Bill of Rights, in guaranteeing free speech and freedom of the press, opens the door for pornography. They do not see how or where a line can be drawn. They fear, moreover, that laws restricting pornography might one day be perverted to inhibit religious freedom. Thus people who have only disdain for pornography may think little can be done to stop it. And because they feel their hands are tied, producers and retailers of obscene materials are getting rich.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution declares that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” Admittedly, this could be taken to mean unlimited license, and some smut peddlers have tried to defend their trade in this way. They have also exploited legislative loopholes, inadequate enforcement, and permissive judicial decisions. These factors, plus a populace that is largely indifferent to or ignorant of what can be done, are what make possible a multi-billion-dollar-a-year pornographic “industry.”

Everyone concedes that some restriction of expression is necessary to an orderly society. Even the smut peddler. He would want the law to protect him from threats of bodily harm. He would want doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and air controllers to be prohibited from subjecting him to fraud and deceit. He would not want a store to be allowed to label as salt a can that contained lye.

The framers of the Bill of Rights implicitly but clearly demonstrated that freedom of personal expression cannot be defined so broadly that another’s freedom is jeopardized. The Fourth Amendment, for example, in restricting property searches asserts that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation …” A judge cannot write out a warrant indiscriminately. When he does issue one, it is to be based on a conscientious attempt to attain objective truth. In the Constitution itself, therefore, the right of expression is obviously limited at the point at which it affects the rights of another.

The question is not whether a line can be drawn but whether it should be, and where. Interestingly, opponents of obscenity laws tend to base their arguments not on the First Amendment or even on the Constitution as a whole but on several much more tenuous points. They contend that there are no fixed concepts of obscenity or propriety, since interpretations may differ according to time and place. They say censorship laws are apt to punish that which has come out of a good motive while allowing what is truly base to escape. They also say that the supposedly bad effects of obscenity have not been proved and that if children need protection, their parents should have taken the responsibility for it.

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Similar objections could be raised about other kinds of laws—including statutes that opponents of obscenity laws would insist upon. And none of the objections refutes the positive reasons for obscenity laws. Some of these reasons are set forth very persuasively in a book by Dr. Benjamin Spock, which will surprise many. “For decades I was an uncompromising civil libertarian and scorned the hypocrisy involved in the enforcement of obscenity laws,” he says. “But recent trends in movies, literature, and art toward what I think of as shock obscenity, and the courts’ acceptance of it have made me change my position … particularly in view of other brutalizing trends.” Dr. Spock goes on to say:

In our so-called emancipation from our Puritan past I think we’ve lost our bearings. Many enlightened parents still have inner convictions but are afraid that they don’t have a sure basis for teaching them to their children. Some of their children are quite bewildered, as child psychiatrists and school counselors report. Sophisticated justices are afraid of being considered illiberal [Decent and Indecent, McCall, 1970].

Some proponents of pornography have advanced figures that purport to show that lifting all restrictions in Denmark diminished the total volume. William Buckley refuted that claim by citing reports that competition drove down the price of pornography in Denmark, leaving it to appear as though the decreased dollar volume showed the public was tired of it. “The gross sales figures,” Buckley said, “suggest that the appetite is insatiable.”

Pornography is by definition that which appeals to prurient desires and is intended to incite to lust or depravity. In the landmark Roth case in 1957, the U. S. Supreme Court set “community standards” as the test of pornography. Many who are in the forefront of the battle against smut feel that this decision is adequate and that no more specific legislation is needed if the courts conscientiously apply the Roth ruling. Some say it is unfortunate that the defense against pornography has shifted somewhat to whether the material in question has any redeeming social value or significance. Under this concept, hard-core pornography could be legalized by the mere insertion of a meaningless token statement.

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Two organizations that have led the fight against pornography are Morality in Media, founded by the Rev. Morton A. Hill, and Citizens for Decent Literature, which was started by Charles H. Keating, Jr. These men, both Roman Catholics, are currently serving on the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, a group set up by President Johnson two years ago. Father Hill has been sharply critical of the commission’s approach to the problem, and fears its report may encourage pornography rather than proposing ways to curtail it.

One legal weapon that may be helpful is found in a bill introduced into the Senate last year by the late Everett Dirksen. This bill (S.1077) would prohibit appellate courts from overruling a local jury’s determination of what is obscene. All other aspects of the litigation would still be subject to appeal.

A more effective weapon is an indignant citizenry. A recent Gallup poll showed that 76 per cent of the American people insist that tougher laws are needed to keep obscene publications off newsstands. We can assume that an even higher percentage see the distribution of such literature as detrimental to our society. Why is the will of the majority being frustrated? And why aren’t these people speaking up? Father Hill’s organization, in the interests of an awakening majority, is urging local pastors throughout the United States to devote at least one sermon to the problem in May.

We may be seeing a turning of the tide. Spock’s book is particularly heartening, for he points out that “nations and civilizations have actually disintegrated when their belief in themselves and their adherence to standards were lost.” The campaign of the Women’s Liberation Movement against sexual exploitation is also a shift in the right direction. One sign that has not yet appeared is the development of a new body of superior Christian literature with the arresting power of that written during the times of the early Church and later during the Reformation.

Cambodia And Israel

President Nixon is rapidly running out of options as events press in on him in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. His ability to maneuver lessens with each passing day.

From the outset it has been plain that the Viet Cong were using the Paris peace talks, not to bring about a ceasefire and a political settlement, but to gain time to regroup and move again against the United States. No one should have been surprised when they aimed this blow against Cambodia. First, it was calculated to test the United States to see if it would intervene. Second, they knew that non-intervention would imperil the military position of the United States and South Viet Nam, and that intervention would be opposed by the doves and anti-war senators, such as Mr. Fulbright of the Foreign Relations Committee. The Communists had a distinct advantage. Mr. Nixon was on the spot; either choice he made would bring him worry and woe.

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If the military operation the President has started in Cambodia succeeds, he may have bought time, but that is all. If it fails, he must either acknowledge defeat or escalate. Either way the risk is great, and we can only hope that the returns will equal the risk. His April 30 decision was not a result of initiative on his part; it was a response to the enemy’s initiative. The Communists continue to call the tune. Short of precipitate withdrawal of U. S. forces and an open admission of defeat (which we have already incurred despite unceasing promises and claims of victory), Mr. Nixon’s options are determined for him, not by him.

It is futile to argue whether it was wise to get involved in Viet Nam. The only question left is whether we will fight to victory or get out under terms and conditions less and less to our liking. It is hollow pretense to suppose that even the program of Vietnamization is a victory. In any man’s language it is defeat—sugar-coated and somewhat reassuring to the national pride, but still defeat. And many Americans are quite willing to settle for defeat, especially those who claim that our intervention was immoral to begin with.

At the same time that we are trying to snatch a Viet Nam victory from the jaws of defeat, the Russians are working overtime to knock out Israel and diminish or destroy U. S. influence in the Middle East. It is odd that the New York Times on April 30 ran one editorial strongly opposing the U. S. stance in Cambodia and calling for disengagement and another strongly favoring indirect—and ultimately direct, if needed—intervention on behalf of Israel. One may well ask why we ought to help Israel and deny help to Cambodia and Viet Nam. Both situations are the direct result of Communist aggression, and more lives are at stake in Southeast Asia than in Israel. The answer, we suppose, is that it is in our interest to support Israel but not in our interest to support the Cambodians and the South Vietnamese.

There can be no doubt that the Soviets are deliberately playing with fire in the Middle East. They are committing themselves there in the same way that we committed ourselves in Southeast Asia. Moreover, there is no doubt that the Arab world, with the direct help of Soviet forces in the military struggle now being waged, will be far too strong for the Israelis to resist forever. It is all too obvious that Israel has no great nation to which it can look for help except the United States. If when the Soviets are fully engaged, as they probably will be, the United States refuses to supply the materials and if necessary the manpower of war, then Israel is doomed. Nasser has acidly called for the ultimate resolution of the problem by the extermination of Israel, and no one should be naïve enough to suppose that he is incapable of doing just that if and when the option is open to him.

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As in Southeast Asia, Mr. Nixon’s options in the Middle East are being narrowed with every passing day. Shortly he must come to the end of a dead-end street. He will be called upon to make further hard decisions, not on his own initiative but in response to the initiative of others.

Why the United Nations has not been called upon to act in two of the most serious confrontations in twenty years is no mystery. The world’s two superpowers are involved, and a veto by one or the other in the Security Council would be a virtual certainty. But this should not preclude other nations from trying to force the U.N. to consider the latest developments.

Armageddon is not far down the road. The world is rapidly slipping toward a third world war, and the great powers seem helpless or lacking in determination to prevent it. We wish that Mr. Nixon had addressed himself to the role of a sovereign God in the affairs of men and had admitted his need for prayer on his and the nation’s behalf by the people of God.

Happy (?) Graduation

For most high-school and college seniors, the month of June has traditionally brought with it a mood of celebration, accomplishment, and anticipation. Graduation has marked the opening of new doors of opportunity, and the graduates have passed through those doors determined to conquer the world.

Graduation probably won’t be that way this year. The graduating seniors won’t be a group of wide-eyed innocents ready to subdue the world with their idealism. As they listen to commencement speakers tell them of the opportunities that await them, their minds may wander to scenes of burning buildings and billowing clouds of tear gas. As they are admonished to build a better world, some will see on their own campuses the work of those who tell them that their greatest contribution in life is to tear down. As they are told of the good life that lies ahead of them, they will think of last year’s graduates who have given their lives in a seemingly useless war. And in the few days that remain before the chords of “Pomp and Circumstance” ring out across the country, there may be further scenes of violence for the graduate to ponder on his special day.

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For many, the usual joys of graduation will be replaced by a sense of fear and anger and frustration and despair. And the traditional mood of celebration will give way to a mood of grim determination that things must be different. Some will “cop-out”; some will tear down and destroy; some will hang on and somehow try to make the best of a bad scene.

But graduation need not be a time of frustration and despair for the Christian. Though he faces the same chaotic world, he can do so with a sense of confidence and anticipation. He can be confident because of the sense of purpose and direction he has found in Jesus Christ. strates the love of Christ in action, he can anticipate the joy of being an instrument of change. Through the power of the Gospel and the demonstration of Christian love And as he proclaims the Gospel in word and demon-and concern, he can attack the fundamental needs of individuals and of society.

The road ahead for the Christian graduate will not be easy. He may be rejected by those whom he seeks to reach. He may be misunderstood by those who claim to be with him. He may be frustrated and angered by the hypocrisy and apathy of some within the church. But as he focuses his attention upon the living Christ and his Word, and as he follows this Christ and his Word regardless of the cost or consequences, his life will have a vital impact upon a desperately needy world. We pray God’s blessing on those graduates who dare to venture out in this mission.

Methodists And Mammon

United Methodists still have a way to go toward carrying out their stated principle of racial equality. Nine all black annual conferences have not yet been assimilated into the white annual conferences in the same geographical areas. But the special session of the United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis (see News, page 31) gave no attention whatsoever to that situation. This neglect speaks far louder than the countless pronouncements in favor of racial equality that the Methodists have issued down through the years.

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Conference delegates also showed a lamentable lack of concern for the twelve black Methodist colleges, all of which are feeling a financial pinch (in contrast to the predominantly white Methodist colleges, which enjoy all kinds of government subsidies). Test votes showed the delegates were utterly unwilling to make adequate financial sacrifices to provide the increase in denominational support needed by the black colleges. Yet they saw room to include in the annual budget $2 million for the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race with no determination of how that money is to be used.

Liberals in the United Methodist Church are wont to blame the conservatives for foot-dragging on appropriations for ethnically related causes. But it was the theologically liberal element that blocked increases in financial guarantees to the black colleges! The acknowledged floor leader of the Southern conservatives, Judge John Satterfield, had spoken publicly in favor of more money for black colleges. The liberals, fearful of jeopardizing present holdings that spell institutional security, killed the move.

A key reason for current Methodist impotence is the shallow gospel preached from many of their pulpits. This message fails to motivate people. Lacking the spirit of New Testament Christianity, many Methodists have no sense of sacrificial stewardship, and so the church must depend on invested reserves to keep afloat. Other Methodists are withholding funds to protest prevailing theological trends. One large, well-known non-Methodist organization numbers Methodists as the largest contributing bloc in its constituency.

This situation goes back to the schools themselves, white as well as black. Often the curricula of denominational colleges lack an authentically biblical base. The challenge for the church campus, greater even than that of the financial crunch, is to recover a spiritual dynamic with which churches and ministers can be energized. Only then can Methodism have a sound foundation from which to challenge people to accept and discharge their responsibilities in the social order.

Campus Conflict

With major eruptions in such “heartland” states as Kansas and Ohio, campus “unrest” has clearly ceased to be a coastal phenomenon. Across the country, from Santa Barbara to New Haven, students, faculties, and administrators have been locked in conflict among themselves and with the wider community. Often these battles have led to property destruction and bloodshed. We regret the losses and sympathize with the injured and bereaved. We also deplore violence, whatever its source, and the threat of and sympathy with it.

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While recognizing the duty of the civil government to use appropriate force when necessary, the Apostle Paul speaks against its use by private citizens (Rom. 13:4; 12:9). The charismatic leaders of dissent within our society should have learned from the study of the past and of the present that they are much more likely to be suppressed by violent reaction from “up-tight” middle Americans than to progress toward their goals, so long as they themselves call for and practice violent destruction. By doing so they give a sort of legitimacy to the force used to repulse them. But persistently non-violent dissent, even (and perhaps especially) when the government overreacts to it, is likely to produce sympathy for the protesters. Selma, Alabama, should remind us of that. Today’s dissenters should also recall that through a message accompanied by non-violence even in the face of extreme violence against it, the early Church eventually won the day in the Roman Empire. (Unfortunately, the Church proved to be an unworthy guardian of the rights of others to dissent.)

While we are not to sympathize with violence itself, yet we should try to understand why some Americans have come to feel that violence, or the threat of it, is the only course of action left to them to take. Nevertheless, there is a great difference that is often obscured between sympathizing with grievances and condoning violent means for trying to redress them. It is one thing to protest, with explanations, what one believes to be unfairness in our society and to suggest and work for remedies. It is something else to make sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations against our admittedly imperfect society. For example, it was a great disservice to our entire judicial system for Yale president Kingman Brewster to express his doubts that black revolutionaries could get a fair trial anywhere. Revolutionary Communists have long been protected by our courts, to the displeasure of both Congress and common people.

We commend Attorney General Mitchell for his recent defense of the Supreme Court and its decisions and for his warning that we cannot with impunity continue to cast aspersions on our judiciary. Both the left and the right have long been guilty of reckless charges that if continued, will come back to haunt all Americans. We have recently been reminded afresh of the fragility of our physical environment, which we have long polluted recklessly. We likewise have no right to assume that our 180-year-old Constitution with the Bill of Rights is invulnerable. The rule by majority with rights for minorities that it sustains is very rare in human history and current global experience. It is not the normal course for sinful man to pursue.

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The faculties and students who coerced their colleagues to cancel classes out of sympathy for a black minority or in protest to a presidential decision did not seem to care a great deal for the rights of those who might have wished to teach and to attend the canceled classes. We have gained nothing if when, for example, we demonstrate for a fair trial for members of one minority, we have to be unfair to members of another, however small, at the same time. There are ways to demonstrate concern for some without destroying the property, privileges, or persons of others. For many years, universities have been turning out an establishment elite that has ignored or oppressed the suffering poor. But they cannot atone for their past misdeeds by now condoning violence and suppressing the rights of others in the name of the poor. Let the academic communities of our nation, which ought to know better, lead the way in educating young men and women to participate responsibly in American life.

The Day The Dying Pause

It is hard, in May, to think about death. Everything heralds life, new and renewed: apple blossoms and wobbly colts, pussy willows and open-mouthed robins. To turn next week from burgeoning life to the house of death, to put living plants on memorials to decay, seems a cruel irony indeed.

Yet life and death are not so disparate. Life often comes out of death—the death of young men fighting for freedom, the death of a mother at her child’s birth—and death always succeeds life. For the Christian, who stops dying and truly begins to live only after death, perhaps it is fitting rather than ironic to set aside in May what one poet called

… the day the Dying pause

To honor those who live.

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