State of the Law on Pornography

By Clifton Drake
Aug 4, 2009

When it comes to the word “pornography,” many Christians would assume it’s synonymous with “obscenity,” and indeed in the biblical worldview, it is. The law, however, takes a different view. Although obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, pornography is not necessarily considered obscene under the law and therefore is often protected as free speech. For something to be considered obscene, three factors must be shown:
1. An average person in the local community would think that the work as a whole appeals to the prurient interest (a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion)
2. The work shows or describes specific sexual conduct listed in state laws in a patently offensive way
3. The work lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (known by some as the SLAPS test)

If it can be shown that certain pornographic material (even movies shown in adult theaters) meets these factors, laws can regulate it and prohibit its distribution. If not, it’s protected as free speech.

Confused? You aren’t alone; the legal line between pornography and obscenity is often unclear. The local community standard is also troublesome. Under this standard, what’s obscene in one part of the country can be entirely different from what’s considered obscene in Las Vegas, for example.

Child pornography is a different category entirely:
• It is forbidden by both federal and state law and not protected by the First Amendment.
• Although private possession of obscene material is allowed legally (remember, it’s only illegal to distribute it), private possession and viewing of child pornography is illegal.
• Even when no actual minor is involved, if the person distributing the pornography claims that minors are shown, it becomes illegal.

Incredibly, computer-generated “virtual” child pornography that doesn’t involve actual human minors is not illegal, so long as it is offered and sought as virtual child porn and not real child porn.

Punishment for child pornography varies; some states have harsher punishments than federal law, while others do not. Here are examples of punishments under federal law:
• Production of child pornography: mandatory min. 15 years, max. 30 years
• Distribution or receipt of child pornography: mandatory min. 5 years, max. 20 years
• Possession of child pornography: up to 10 years

Pornography is an affair of the heart and mind—“anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Viewing pornography causes an addiction to a substitute and destroys relationships, and the Bible repeatedly commands that we must not have “even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3). Our laws mostly live up to that ideal with respect to child pornography, but even here they are poorly enforced and still inadequate.

Without a new interpretation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court, some pornography will remain legal if it’s not “obscene.” In the meantime, encourage your elected representative and senators to take a strong stand in support of legislation opposing pornography and obscenity. While courts sometimes overturn such laws passed by Congress, we must encourage our elected officials to keep up the fight. Because the definition of obscenity involves local community standards, juries have great influence in deciding what is obscene, so alert your communities to the dangers of pornography, and write letters to the editor encouraging the strict prosecution of those breaking the law. Finally, teach your children about God’s standard of purity; “sexting” (sending text messages of nude pictures) has exploded among teenagers, and it often starts in middle school. Children must understand the dangers of pornography as well as the legal consequences—sexting can land both sender and recipient in jail or on a sex offender registry. We must take pornography seriously; God’s Word is not silent on this matter, and we must not be either.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Family, Sexual Purity, Pornography,

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Dec 18, 2013

Contact: Elizabeth Bristow, 615-782-8409
or Dan Darling, 615-782-8413
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—During a recent interview on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront, Russell D. Moore, addressed the criticism that Phil Robertson, star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, is receiving for his comments on homosexuality in a recent article for GQ magazine.

“Suggesting that people who hold to what every branch of the Christian faith has held to for 2,000 years is somehow bigoted or hateful is not productive for speech,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on CNN.

In response to the controversy, A&E announced that it has put Robertson “on hiatus,” an action that Russell D. Moore calls “ridiculous.”

“Silencing views one doesn’t agree with, rather than engaging them, is hardly open-minded,” Moore said on Twitter tonight.

Moore expounded his position on his blog, Moore to the Point.

“Admittedly, A&E didn’t hire Robertson to be Charlie Rose or George Will. They hired him to be comedic and sometimes shockingly homespun. Now, I thought his reported anatomical comparisons were ill-advised and crude. But that doesn’t seem to be where the controversy lies.

“The comments that seem most offensive to people are his moral assessments of sex outside of conjugal marriage, which were more or less just a recitation of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is lord over sexuality, and he says that sexuality is expressed rightly only in the marriage of a man and a woman. That’s not new. We also think we’re all sinners, and that God calls us all to repentance. That’s not new either.

“We’re a divided country on sexual issues. That’s why every news cycle brings more controversy. Why not engage one another, and have the debates in a civil fashion, without attempting to silence one another. I don’t agree with David Letterman’s views on divorce and cohabitation, but I don’t want him suspended for voicing them. I’ll bet I don’t agree with MTV’s Nev Schulman of the popular Catfish show on sexual ethics, but it wouldn’t put me in the fetal position under the table to hear him voice them.

“Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.”

The full text of Moore’s blog can be found at

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest non-Catholic denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.


To request an interview with Russell D. Moore
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409
or Daniel Darling at (615) 782-8413,
or by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Visit our Web site at
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLCPressRoom.

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