Courage On Campus

Our View: In Porn Controversy, Um Was Right To Ignore Political Pressure And Stand Up For The Free Exchange Of Ideas, No Matter How Unsavory Those Ideas May Be

November 13, 2009

In deciding not to become the first university system in the nation to adopt a policy about how and when pornography can be shown on campus, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents showed admirable courage and stood up for the traditions of academic freedom and independent thought. It also avoided a thorny First Amendment issue that could well have sparked potentially costly lawsuits.

But in rejecting state lawmakers' threats to cut off funding for public universities and colleges that didn't adopt formal policies on porn, the regents also recognized another important element of their mission. College is a time for young men and women to learn to make decisions on their own, even if they turn out to be bad ones. Neither the regents nor the legislature should be making those decisions for them.

Was it wise for students at the University of Maryland College Park to schedule a screening last spring of "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge?" Clearly not: The XXX-rated film, hyped as a feature-length effort to make erotic content mainstream, turned out to be the same old smut. Even students who defied lawmakers' objections and watched the movie as a matter of principle concluded it had no educational value whatsoever. In that sense, at least, the occasion truly was a "teachable moment."

There's no question that pornography degrades women and coarsens relations between the sexes. By no stretch of the imagination can it be considered harmless entertainment, and recent studies suggest that it may also be dangerously addictive among college-age men. We hope the UM students who saw the movie took the opportunity to figure out that lesson for themselves.

But lawmakers' clumsy attempts to censor every potentially controversial campus event and impose rigid ideological restrictions on intellectual inquiry only hurt long-running efforts to boost the state's flagship campus at College Park into the top tier of public research universities. That's unlikely to happen if the school gets a reputation for caving to the whims of every lawmaker out to make political hay.

Even so, given that 2010 is an election year, there's probably small chance that the General Assembly will let the hullabaloo die completely when it reconvenes in January. State Sen. Andy Harris, a conservative Baltimore County Republican, came close to derailing the state's $1.1 billion capital budget last April in his effort to prevent the UM screening. He almost certainly will be running again for the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland's 1st Congressional District, and there's little doubt he believes this is an issue that can win him votes.

He may be right. But other lawmakers shouldn't take the bait. The legislature has more than enough other important matters to attend to - and besides, revisiting the issue could have exactly the opposite of the desired effect. After all, what can make something more attractive to college students than forbidding them to do it?

Readers respond

When will the left learn to read the Constitution?

We can debate all we want about the propriety of pornography being shown at a public university, but this is NOT about the First Amendment, which is meant to protect political speech. Laws prohibited pornography before and after the Bill of Rights was ratified.

I personally don't have a problem with people viewing adult materials in the privacy of their homes and other places where consenting adults wish to view it, but it's funny how the left has no problem banning "hate speech" (which, in some cases, is closer to political speech than pornography is) but will protect virtually any other expression of thought (as long as it isn't conservative or religious). Quit hiding behind this false premise and have the courage to debate the issue on its merits.

Tell

Where is that part of the Constitution that says only political speech is protected? Oh yeah, that's right, it's not in there. Hate speech, political speech and pornographic movies should all be protected equally.

The religious right should stop trying to legislate victimless behavior, especially in situations like this one involving those over the age of 18. Isn't it the right that constantly complains about government intrusion?

JAS

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