The Laws and Your Rights

  • All 50 states have laws governing obscenity, child pornography, harassment, and the distribution of obscene materials.  Find out what local, state and federal laws are (regarding obscenity laws, laws of decency, transferring obscene material to minors, and harmful to minors laws), and if they are enforced. 
State and Federal Obscenity Laws:

Washington State's Obscenity Laws:     
  • Material which is illegal to distribute to minors includes the legal terms “indecent” and “harmful to minors”—material which has First Amendment protection for adults, but not for minors because of the surpassing value of protecting the young.  There is a national law called The Harmful to Minors Law which says the community has the power to decide their community standard.  Restrictions on broadcast indecency and Internet pornography extend into this category.   
  • Pornography is regulated by a “community standard.”  Many people assume that if pornography is available in a community, it is legal.  This is simply not so.  Spokane citizens have the right to establish a community standard which will help determine the environment our children are raised in.  As the community decides what it will tolerate, this standard will impact pornography in adult stores, local businesses, malls, store windows, billboards, magazine racks and the books read by our children in school.  
  • How to establish a community standard:  Attorneys in a Community Standards Symposium put on by The Lighted Candle Society stated that to determine the community standard in a court of law there are two considerations.  
(1)  Not everyone goes to a sexually oriented business, but everyone does go to grocery stores, so the question is, “What does the public allow to be seen by their children in grocery stores, i.e. on the magazine displays?”  This can be controlled through polite public requests to managers of the stores to place covers over inappropriate magazine covers.  Samples can be seen at in the book online “People Speaking Out for Decency.”   

(2)  The other necessary element is that the City Council needs to pass a “Resolution” or a “Proclamation” saying that the members of the city council feel that the people in their community want their community to be child-appropriate, i.e. in the stores, city buildings and in other locations the images should be appropriate for a child to see.  (See samples of resolutions online at  The resolution is NOT an ordinance that is enforced by law, but it is a statement to help establish a community standard.  The other choice is to allow anything into the community and have no protection for children.  As stores work to be child-appropriate, it is helpful to put an article in the local paper showing appreciation for the efforts of that store.  Little by little stores join this effort to be child-appropriate.  Once the community standard is obvious, the Harmful to Minors Law can be enforced.
  • Once established, Spokane’s “community standard” should be presented by the media and posted on our city and county websites.  
  • Everyone can help by making polite requests to managers of grocery stores to cover inappropriate magazine covers if you see a magazine displaying images or words that you would not want your six or eight year old boy to read or see.  Young and old, educated and uneducated, the religious and irreligious citizens all can contribute to protecting the children in the community.  Obviously, by being selective about the books, magazines, movies and television shows you watch, you can also influence your community. Your actions do make a difference.
  • There is a difference between enacting and enforcing legislation.  Citizen complaints are crucial for porn prosecutions to occur.  Citizens tend to believe that prosecutors and law enforcement know what citizens find offensive, and don’t think they should have to complain.   Complaints let law enforcement know that the citizens in the community are not happy with what is being distributed in their community.  Your actions do make a difference.  
  • Become friends with your local prosecuting attorney.  Educate him about your concerns for children and their exposure.   Now he will understand your complaints.
  • Many law enforcement agencies will not investigate possible pornography issues unless they get a complaint.  Since they tend to respond to the most clearly expressed priorities of their constituents, community inaction can be mistaken for community approval.  They interpret silence (or a lack of complaints) as community approval.  
  • Taxpayers who pay for public education, and the parents who entrust the well-being of their children to the public school system, rightly expect high standards from school educators.  Some teachers choose sexually explicit classroom literature which is virtually calculated to titillate the minds of students and offend parents.  Parents have a right to submit a formal objection to offensive, sexually-explicit literature, teaching materials, and educators.  (Contact school administrators to learn how to file a complaint.)  
  • Taxpayers who pay to keep public library doors open and pay for their computers, have a right to insist that children are protected from viewing pornography.  In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which requires public schools and libraries that receive Internet-related federal funds to use blocking filters to restrict access to pornography.  State and local governments can pass similar legislation if they use CIPA as their model.  They can require that schools and libraries funded by local and state governments must protect children from Internet porn by installing software filters.  Some libraries reject government funds to avoid the requirement of filtering patrons' access to the Internet. 
  • FYI -  In 2004, Communist China’s leadership cracked down on electronic porn—no more porn, no more nudity on the Internet, no more telephone sex services, and no more text-message smut.  The Information Industry Minister Wang Xudong stated, “This depraves social morals and especially brings great harm to the country’s young minds.”  The government established an official definition of decency, and shut down hundreds of pornographic web sites, arresting people involved in their operation.  The authority of that government to decide what people can view on the Web or hear on the phone has not been questioned.