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Don't let Gov. Abbott decide what is pornographic

Don't let Gov. Abbott decide what is pornographic

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In 1964, 25-year-old French director Louis Malle released his film “The Lovers” — “Les amants” in French — which became a hit in his native country.

The film raised many eyebrows and much cluck-clucking over what many people at the time considered obscene material when it came to America.

When the film was shown at a movie house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, theater manager Nico Jacobellis was arrested and charged with possessing and exhibiting obscenity. He was convicted and fined $2,500, but appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the standards of the time, established by the Supreme Court only seven years earlier, to be considered obscene, material, such as “The Lovers,” had to have a dominant theme that, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of the “average person, applying contemporary community standards.”

In the 1964 Jacobellis case, the court ruled the Malle film was not obscene. It seems pretty tame by today’s standards.

Justice Potter Stewart, in his opinion on the case, wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [of hard-core pornography], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Probably most of us quickly can determine whether something is obscene in extreme cases. But what about less-obvious cases?

Is a sex scene in a film obscene? Is a graphically detailed passage in a romance novel obscene?

That’s where good people can differ. What is acceptable to one person, may be offensive to someone else.

Time was when the taboos were clear-cut to just about everyone. Not any more. Many of us, particularly those who grew up when “community standards” were more strict, cringe at today’s rampant permissiveness.

Who sets those community standards? That isn’t entirely clear.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott took the bold move of declaring war on pornography in our public schools. Who could disagree with that?

Well, many do, because the definition of obscenity can be too broadly painted.

The governor, continuing to pander to the extreme right, instructed the Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission “to immediately develop statewide standards to ensure no child is exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content in a Texas public school.”

Abbott’s call came after the Texas Association of School Boards decided not to make a determination of what is pornographic in schools.

Like most people, we are shocked that pornography and other unacceptable material is widespread in our public schools. Is “Debbie Does Dallas” being used as a teaching tool?

Most definitely not. So what is the governor referring to?

The governor pointed to “Gender Queer: a Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, who used comic-book illustrations to tell of her journey as a nonbinary student all through school. While we haven’t read the book — it’s been a long time since any members of the Editorial Board have been in school — a cursory glance doesn’t show anything obscene. Still, the Keller school district removed the book from a school library after parents — who probably haven’t read the book either — complained.

Many other books have been banned — or been the subject of attempts to ban them.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain’s American classic, has been under assault ever since it was published in 1884 for its coarse and — by today’s standards — racist language. It remains a target today.

“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker often is mentioned for library removal because of its depiction of an affair between two women.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are targeted frequently because of their stories about warlocks and wizards. L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” is criticized because it includes witches — bad and good — in the storyline.

The people who demand that these and other books be removed from school libraries because of what they say is obscene or inappropriate material are good folks, parents who want their children to remain children as long as possible. But each family sets its own standards of acceptability and has every right to do so. But should they be allowed to impose their particular standards on the entire community.

We have no problem with the governor’s efforts to remove “pornography” from our public schools. We just have a problem with him or the state deciding what is pornographic.

Let the school districts and the parents of the children in our schools decide what is appropriate in school libraries.

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