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Issues - Sex and Censorship

The Notorious Woman Artists of 1943
(February 4, 2016) - A groundbreaking exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery inspired outpourings of sexist mockery and condescension, but also grudging admiration.

Social Media Censorship
(November 19, 2015) - offers information and help to people whose postings have been taken down by social media sites.

Harvard Law Review Censors Link to Nan Goldin Photograph
(June 26, 2014) - And in a forum celebrating free expression, no less.

Prurience and Homophobia During the Red Scare
(July 16, 2013) - A book about the notorious Johns Committee of Florida chronicles a vicious assault on gay men and lesbians.

Academic Freedom or Harassment?
(April 14, 2013) - Appalachian State University has punished a professor for showing an anti-pornography film in class.

FCC Proposes Easing Up on Censorship of "Indecency"
(April 12, 2013) - After years of controversy and litigation, the agency seems poised to abandon its rule on "fleeting expletives" and return to square one.

Battles Continue Over Internet Filters
(November 11, 2012) - Two recent court cases have challenged discriminatory blocking of web sites that support gay and lesbian rights and that provide information on nonmainstream religions.

The Great Indecency Case Ends With a Whimper
(June 27, 2012) -Why did the Supreme Court decide not to decide whether the FCC's shifting, unpredictable, vague, and often discriminatory censorship regime violates the First Amendment?

Justices Are Split on Broadcast "Indecency"
(January 11, 2012) - Only two justices at the January 10 Supreme Court argument expressed First Amendment concerns about the FCC's vague and shifting standards.

Court Strikes Down Penalty for "Nipplegate"
(November 2, 2011) - The decision represents one more judicial rejection of the FCC’s dramatic escalation, in recent years, in the censorship of programming it perceives as “indecent.”

Back to the Past: the Government's Strategy in the "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(September 19, 2011) - The government's recently filed brief tries to dissuade the Supreme Court from considering the vagueness of the FCC's definition of "indecency" or the chilling effect of its censorship regime.

The Family Shakespeare
(April 23, 2011) - A new play re-imagines the notorious Bowdler family and debates the eternal question of literary censorship.

FCC Censorship of "indecency" is Unconstitutional
(July 13, 2010) - Three judges have finally struck down the "fleeting expletives" rule.

Sarcasm Reigns as Court Revisits the FCC's "Fleeting Expletives" Rule (January 13, 2010) - Three Court of Appeals judges subjected the Federal Communications Commission to a barrage of withering sarcasm during oral argument in round 3 of Fox Television v. FCC.

FEPP's Latest Slide Show: Minors, Censorship & Sex
(updated June 28, 2012) - This powerpoint describes the current court battle over "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves, as well as background on the history of censorship aimed at protecting youth.

Fleeting Expletives Redux: Court of Appeals Sets New Briefing Schedule
(August 4, 2009) -The Court of Appeals has set a new briefing schedule in the case challenging the FCC's rule against "fleeting expletives." Will this finally lead to the end of government censorship of the airwaves?

Supreme Court Clears the Way for Ending FCC Censorship of the Airwaves
(April 28, 2009) - At first blush, it's a win for what one dissenting justice called a "wildly expansive" claim of censorship power, but the tea leaves suggest that the Court might be ready to consign the FCC's reign of error to a well-deserved grave.

Free Speech in the Age of Obama: Proposals for Year 1
(January 20, 2009) - On Inauguration Day 2009, FEPP proposes a few changes from the policies of George W. Bush.

Supreme Court Blushes at Those S-words and F-words
(November 4, 2008) - The oral argument on election day in Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television was not a model of First Amendment eloquence.

Supreme Court Brief in FCC v. Fox, the "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(August 8, 2008) - FEPP joined with the ACLU, the Directors Guild of America, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and nine other organizations in urging the Court not only to affirm last year's court of appeals decision striking down the Federal Communication Commission's ban on "fleeting expletives" in radio and TV broadcasting, but clarifying that the laws governing the FCC can no longer be interpreted to allow the agency its freewheeling censorship of constitutionally protected speech on the airwaves.

The Trials of Judge Kozinski
(July 13, 2008) - When it comes to sexual humor, what standards should apply to a judge's private web files?

FEPP's Slide Show of Controversial and Censored Art
(May 2008) - From the erotic frescos of Pompeii to today's battles over fair use - an entertaining and informative history of censored images.

Supreme Court Will Review "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(March 13, 2008) - A showdown is looming over FCC censorship of "indecency" on the airwaves.

(July 17, 2007) - CBS and Fox TV's rejection of a Trojan ad recapitulates an old story of American schizophrenia on the subject of sex.

A Huge Victory for Free Speech on the Airwaves
(June 4, 2007) - The U.S. Court of Appeals has invalidated the FCC's ban on "fleeting expletives," and in the process, cast doubt on the constitutionality of the entire "indecency" censorship regime.

"COPA" is Struck Down Again
(March 23, 2007) - A federal court's March 22 decision touts Internet filters as more effective than a criminal law in barring minors from sexual speech.

The Truth Seeker
(March 13, 2007) -The first biography of D.M. Bennett, who was jailed for selling a pamphlet that argued against the institution of marriage, highlights the connection between organized religion and censorship.

Federal Judges Have Hard Questions for FCC Censors
(Dec. 20, 2006) - At oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the FCC's lawyer struggled to defend the agency's rules banning "profanity" and "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves.

Filmmakers, Writers, Free Speech Groups Urge Court to End FCC Censorship
(November 30, 2006) - 20 organizations, led by the Brennan Center, have filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the FCC's rules banning "profanity" and "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves are unconstitutional.

First Post-CIPA Lawsuit Filed
(Nov. 21, 2006) - The ACLU of Washington has sued a library district for refusing to dismantle Internet filters.

FCC Faces Judicial Challenges to Its Indecency Regime
(Sept. 29, 2006) - Two federal courts are poised to decide whether "fleeting expletives" or "wardrobe malfunctions" can be banned from radio and television.

The Disconnect Between Fact and Rhetoric
(August 2, 2006) - A recent conference, "Beyond Censorship," touts ratings and filters, and buys into myths about proven harm from sexual or violent content.

Movie Censors Are Also Copyright Infringers
(July 11, 2006) - A federal court has ruled against the fair use arguments of CleanFlicks and fellow sanitizers.

Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report
(May 2006) - Internet filters categorize expression without regard to its context, meaning, and value. Yet these sweeping censorship tools are now widely used in schools and libraries. This fully revised and updated report surveys nearly 100 tests and studies of filtering products through 2006. An essential resource for the ongoing debate.

America's Culture Czars
(March 21, 2006) - The FCC's latest "indecency" rulings are so radical as to beg for court review.

A New Use For Indecency?
(September 15, 2005) - New research suggests a link between media giants and raunchy broadcasting - but should we base policy decisions about media ownership on the FCC's censorship regime?

Sanitizing Movies
(April 19, 2005) - The "Family Movie Act" (which was passed into law shortly after this testimony was given) singles out filmmakers for lesser copyright protection in order to encourage the movie-censoring industry.

Censoring Indecency is a Diversion
(March 16, 2005) - Why Senator Stevens' plan to extend indecency regulation to cable is an unconstitutional diversion from structural regulation of media oligopolies.

The Attack on Science
(December 7, 2004) - From environmental hazards to sex education, the federal government in the past several years has been twisting science to political ends.

Internet Filters Are Now a Fact of Life
(September 2, 2004) - But a new guide for libraries explains that some are worse than others.

The Right Result; the Wrong Reason
(July 1, 2004) - In ruling that Internet filters are a "less restrictive alternative" to COPA, a criminal law restricting sexual material online, the Supreme Court endorsed a technology with the potential for far greater censorship.

Congress Weighs In On Movie Filters
(May 21, 2004) - Threats to change copyright law if directors and studios don't allow censorware to blur, cut, and bleep.

What's Wrong With Censoring Youth?
(April 19, 2004) - Law professor Kevin Saunders' new book proposes radical restrictions on minors' First Amendment rights.

Fact Sheet on Sex and Censorship
(March 2004) - Where did the exception to the First Amendment for "obscenity" originate? What other ways have government officials found to control erotic speech? And why do some of them continue to do so, in the face of ever more sexual explicitness all around us? FEPP's fact sheet summarizes the history and current status of restrictions on sexual expression in America.

What is the Fuss About Janet Jackson's Breast?
(February 3, 2004) - How do mini-culture wars get started, when there are so many more pressing issues on the public-policy agenda?

Free Expression in Arts Funding: A Public Policy Report
(2003) - A survey of free-expression policies among state and local arts agencies, including ways of anticipating and dealing with attacks on controversial art. Includes background on the arts funding wars of the 1990s, and candid interviews with agency officials. Read the report in html or pdf.

Filtering Fact Sheet
(July 2003) - Despite well-documented problems of overblocking, Internet filters are now widely used in schools and libraries. FEPP's fact sheet summarizes the most salient facts about filters.

Ignoring the Irrationality of Internet Filters, Supreme Court Upholds CIPA
(June 2003) - The justices say that to the extent that erroneous blocking of "completely innocuous" Internet sites raises a constitutional problem, "any such concerns are dispelled" by the law's provision giving libraries the discretion to disable the filter upon request from an adult.

Not In Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and The Innocence Of Youth
(2001, 2nd edition 2007) - From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, Internet filters to the v-chip, censorship is often based on the assumption that children and adolescents must be protected from "indecent" speech. In Not In Front of the Children, FEPP Director Marjorie Heins explores the history of indecency laws and other censorship aimed at youth. Not in Front of the Children won the 2002 American Library Association's Eli M. Oboler Award for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom.

For additional Materials on Sex and Censorship in 2001-03, go to the Archives Page.

The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

All material on this site is covered by a Creative Commons "Attribution - No Derivs - NonCommercial" license. (See You may copy it in its entirely as long as you credit the Free Expression Policy Project and provide a link to the Project's Web site. You may not edit or revise it, or copy portions, without permission (except, of course, for fair use). Please let us know if you reprint!