The very essence of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is free exercise: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ” Although there is no exact mention against it within this piece of legislature, censorship has sort of been the arch-nemesis of the First Amendment in so many ways, and a lot of debates and discussions have been tossed around about this topic.
Easton even half-jokingly writes that “the First Amendment has been so frequently cited by pornographers in American debates that it has been dubbed ‘the pornographers’ charter’. ” (94) In light of the First Amendment, should pornography be censored? Let us first define what pornography is. Merriam-Webster defines pornography as “material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement”.
However, Caroline West, in her article posted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, pointed out several ambiguities and difficulties in giving a general definition for pornography. If we were to follow the Webster definition, then what would become of medical literature that feature sexual activity, and unintentionally causes sexual arousal? West instead suggests that pornography can perhaps be best defined as “sexually explicit material designed to produce sexual arousal in consumers that is bad in a certain way” (West, 2004).
West obviously added the “that is bad in a certain way” part to explicitly identify the grounds for qualifying pornographic material. To also qualify what censorship is, we can take Merriam-Webster’s official definition of censorship, which is “the institution, system, or practice of censoring, to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable. ” This paper is a treatise on whether pornography should be censored or not, in light of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
There is no clear provision for censorship, and many a battle has been fought in the judicial courts over this. Most of the points of contention from both sides (free speech/free press vs. censorship) evolve around ambiguous definitions and gray areas. There are actually not just two sides to this story, since more than two sectors of society are being affected. It should also be taken to account that a person or a community’s definition of pornography could be a lot different from another’s.
The context in which a scenario is being scrutinized for evidence of pornography may greatly differ from the next. One may conclude from this that the characteristics that qualify pornography vary from situation to situation, from individual to individual, from society to society. Following this line of thought, my thesis for this paper is this: Pornography is normative, and is therefore relative; therefore censorship should also be normative and not all-encompassing.