WASHINGTON, D.C.—It probably hasn’t escaped Republican politicians’ attention that it’s virtually impossible to get a jury to convict a producer or retailer on obscenity charges anymore. After all, most of the jurors probably watch porn themselves, and legitimate adult producers tend to shy away from creating hardcore scenes that would shock ordinary people’s sensibilities—and under existing obscenity laws, it’d be damned hard to get a conviction on, say, a BDSM movie that doesn’t include hardcore.
So what’s a pro-censorship religious conservative to do? Answer: Chip away at the margins of free sexual speech.
One early example of such action, apparently taken with an eye on the then-impending Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, was that in early January, Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan announced that the agency would be forming a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within HHS’ Office for Civil Rights. An HHS press release stated that the new division would “more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights”—and its website specifically identifies abortion and assisted suicide as “procedures for which health care professionals may need conscience protection”—and right-wing media speculated that some doctors and nurses also may request “protection” against being f****d to assist with gender transitions.
But that was a baby-step; one that targeted women and transgenders (not to mention the very sick) for discrimination, but didn’t really affect First Amendment speech rights—except, of course, for the fact that virulent religionists consider the very existence of sexual content to be a v*******n of their “religious freedom.” But it’s significant that within one month of its creation, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division received more than 300 complaints from individuals claiming that “their religious or conscience rights had been v******d” by their employer, a state or state agency or a health provider. (Between November 2016 and the creation of the Division, just 34 such complaints had been received by HHS.)
Fast-forward to March of 2018, when Congress approved $260 million for family planning, and aside from the uproar from the Usual Suspects about some of those funds going to Planned Parenthood, some of the money was also supposed to be used for sex education in public schools. So … guess who they put in charge of allocating those funds? Valerie Huber, the former president of the National Abstinence Education Association (later known as Ascend), who is now the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, and Diane Foley, a Christian anti-choice activist who believes monogamy is “scientifically correct”! Again, not a direct shot at the adult industry; just another way to make sure there are plenty of pregnant teens—and fewer places where they can get abortions if they want them.
Hop forward another couple of months, and on May 3, President Shit For Brains (as Chelsea Handler referred to him) kicked off a new White House office, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, and according to Trump pal Tony Perkins of Family Research Council (which isn’t a council, it’s a one-man dictatorship, and does no research), “Trump’s emphasis is giving faith groups a stronger voice on areas like poverty, religious liberty, education, family, prisoner reform, mental health, and human trafficking. This White House wants religious groups and organizations to have ‘strong advocates’ across the federal government.”
Just what we needed—but again, nothing specifically targeting sexual speech—but we’re guessing that that office helped walk SESTA/FOSTA through Congress. Similarly, we have to wonder if the Initiative played a role in the Bureau of Prisons reformulating its Transgender Offender Manual so that “biological sex” is now listed as the primary consideration in deciding whether prisoners go to male or female facilities. Hey, criminal: Got tits and a penis? Guess you’re shit out of luck.
But religionists moved into the Big Time in late May, when a New York Times article revealed an evangelical-created program called Project Blitz.
“‘Blitz’ accurately describes the spirit of the enterprise, but the mission has little to do with what most Americans would call religious freedom,” noted NY Times journalist Katherine Stewart. “This is just the latest attempt by religious extremists to use the coercive powers of government to secure a privileged position in society for their version of Christianity.
“The idea behind Project Blitz is to overwhelm state legislatures with bills based on centrally manufactured legislation. ‘It’s kind of like whack-a-mole for the other side; it’ll drive ‘em crazy that they’ll have to divide their resources out in opposing this,’ David Barton, a Christian nationalist historian and one of four members of Project Blitz’s ‘steering team,’ said in a conference call with state legislators from around the country.”
Among the Project Blitz objectives: Getting more religion into public schools and institutions by, for instance, getting “In God We Trust” plaques mounted on municipal building walls and in classrooms; creating bills intended to promote the teaching and celebration of Christianity in public schools and elsewhere—Stewart: “These bills are a means of spreading the message that Christian conservatives are the real Americans, and everybody else is here by invitation only.”—and promoting bills that would allow private businesses and government employees to discriminate against LGBT people, for example, provided that they do so in accordance with ‘sincerely held religious beliefs.'”
And to think, less than two weeks later, the Supreme Court let Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips do exactly that!
But things are heating up. Remember when, during the W and Obama administrations, everywhere you turned, religio-conservative media organizations were filing indecency complaints against TV stations for letting words like “shit” sneak through unbleeped during award shows? Well, that crap is back again, with the ultra-conservative Parents Television Council filing an indecency complaint against Sinclair Broadcasting’s WJLA in D.C. Seems that the ABC show Good Morning America was doing a story on Harvey Weinstein, and in the course of the segment, they played a clip of Gwyneth Paltrow talking to Howard Stern about how Weinstein had tried to m****t her. Trouble is, somewhere in that interview, Stern said “fuck”—and that was all it took to set the PTC off and running … to the FCC to file a complaint. If the FCC finds that WJLA was at fault, it could be fined as much as $397,000 for the slip—as could each and every other station that aired the same segment!
Which brings us to June 13, the day the U.S. Department of Justice announced the roll-out of its “Place to Worship Initiative,” which will supposedly “focus on protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities—as provided by the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).”
Sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? But in fact, it’s the administration’s first direct shot across the bow in the religio-conservative fight to get rid of adult book and video stores and strip clubs.
See, according to the DOJ’s explanation of what the Place to Worship Initiative will do, “These provisions protect places of worship and other religious uses of property (including religious schools and religious social service providers) in the zoning and landmarking process from actions by local governments that … totally or unreasonably exclude religious assemblies and institutions from a particular municipality or county.” [Emphasis added]
Now, as every brick-and-mortar adult business owner is already aware, they exist in their locations at the pleasure of local city councils and zoning authorities—and often, those authorities have instituted “set-backs” for those businesses, requiring that they be at least some distance—500 feet, 1,000 feet, half a mile or even a mile—from so-called “sensitive uses.” Such uses include residential areas, schools, playgrounds—and churches!
Now, with the Place to Worship Initiative in operation, let’s say someone wants to open a storefront church down the block from a strip club or adult video store. Under the Initiative, a city council or zoning board would have to let that church open its doors or be charged by the feds with “unreasonably excluding” the church. Trouble is, once that church moves in, the city would consider itself justified in f*****g the club or video store to close or move, thanks to the already existing set-back laws!
The message that adult entertainment should take from this concatenation of actions is simple: As we all assumed, They are coming for us; it’s just taking them a little longer than we assumed. But the war has started, so get ready.
Originally published at: https://avn.com/business/articles/legal/trump-administration-begins-a-shadow-war-on-adult-781147.htmlTags: Mark Kernes