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This letter is in response to the letters of Martin Morse Wooster and Marc A. Garrett (The Mail, 2/14), who took issue with my previous letter (The Mail, 2/7):

Garrett recites the standard First Amendment defense-of-pornography argument; namely, that Ralph Whittington’s right to collect pornography (“The Library of Sexual Congress,” 1/24), regardless of its violent nature, is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, and anybody who would take issue with this is anti-free speech.

Let me first say, there is an in-your-face attitude that people like Garrett take in discussing this, as if there is an inherent moral superiority to their personal view that only prudes and right-wing fundamentalists are capable of being offended, and so to give offense to such people proves that pornography is really a good thing, that American cultural life is just fine, thank you.

The First Amendment applies solely to the government, and what it may not do: The government may not abridge or constrain the political free speech of the individual. It says nothing about the individual, and so it is a misunderstanding to say that “the First Amendment protects Whittington’s right to be a hard-core voluptuary.” Rather, it is more correct to say that the government can undertake no act to constrain Whittington’s free speech, including what he chooses to read (or view). This is a subtle but important distinction. It applies primarily to political speech, but it is also extended to “lower forms” of speech, including pornography, unless that pornography is deemed “obscene.” However, it is almost impossible to have something defined as obscene, regardless of the majority’s view. (This is what is at once so beautiful and infuriating about the First Amendment.) Additionally, if any of the pornography that Whittington collects was made in violation of any laws—e.g., minors were involved, someone was under duress in making it, or it is being distributed in violation of community regulations on such things— then the pornographer is acting illegally. This is no longer free speech.

As for Garrett’s assertion that Eddie Dean illuminates the subject “as clearly as possible” and leaves judgment to the reader, exactly the opposite is the case. Dean, who I agree is a talented writer, regularly lambastes all his subjects, and my only point was that in this particular case he seemed serenely at ease with his topic. As a segue into Wooster’s letter, I suppose Dean wouldn’t have gotten too far if he had actually asked Whittington if he is a woman-hater or a wacko, but City Paper is under no compulsion to give Whittington such a public forum. In saying so, to paraphrase Garrett, I exercised my First Amendment right, but it was up to City Paper to publish my views.

College Park

via the Internet