Biblical Archaeology Review 14:4, July/August 1988

Queries & Comments

For and Against Printing Photograph of the Erotic/Pornographic Clay Lamps from Ashkelon

It is difficult to believe you are serious in requesting reader approval to publish pictures of clay discs excavated at Ashkelon (Queries & Comments, BAR 14:02). You say that they are “blatant pornography,” and you wonder whether to “recognize overriding principles of good taste and reader sensitivity.”

Of course you should publish them!

The question is one of pure censorship. Apparently you recognize that there is no question of “obscenity,” as defined by the Supreme Court of the United States in Miller v. California (1973), because the dominant appeal is not to the prurient interest in sex; and, in any event, there is serious scientific value in the publication.

Since your concern is offensiveness and indecency, you ought to pay heed to the teaching of justice Harlan in Cohen v. California (1971) that, “one main’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” Moreover, “we cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular [pictures] without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process.” He added that “the state has no right to cleanse publications to the point where they are palatable to the most squeamish among us.” For those who may be offended, the Supreme Court said, the solution is to turn away but not to suppress the speech.

These principles of First Amendment jurisprudence technically do not apply to BAR, a private [non-governmental] publication. But, they certainly present precepts of freedom of expression that should be adopted by any journal devoted to the pursuit of scholarship and truth.

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