Obscenity in Florida

October 05, 1990

We have heard the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew's album, "As Nasty as They Wanna Be," and they are indeed disgusting, appalling and, yes, even obscene. But obscene or not, we reject the idea that anyone, anywhere, should be prosecuted and convicted for writing songs, singing songs, selling records -- or doing anything else that falls within the ambit of the freedom to speak or perform.

This week in Florida, a record store owner was convicted, and faces a jail term, for selling 2 Live Crew's records. Obscenity aside, the way this case has been handled from the beginning strongly suggests that Florida authorities have singled out this particular group and record stores that sell its albums for selective prosecution.

Charles Freeman, the black record store owner who was convicted of obscenity, maintained that the all-white jury "doesn't represent my community." The implication -- that black community standards of obscenity are different from those among whites -- is questionable, but it is also beside the point.

The point is that there is nothing on the album which does not appear in graphic form on any X-rated video or in adult magazines, both of which are sold in Florida. If the defense had been allowed to show the jury an X-rated video or a porno magazine as evidence of "contemporary community standards," the jurors might well have felt compelled to decide the other way.

The suspicion lingers that Florida authorities are engaged in some kind of witch hunt, and that 2 Live Crew and the record stores that sell their albums are just an excuse to pursue the vendetta. But whatever questions the jury verdict may have raised, by now it ought to be obvious that it is useless to try to police the contents of books and records, and sending people to jail for what they write, say or sing makes no sense at all.

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