1991 March 17

Penthouse Centerfold on Dorm Room Door Raises First Amendment Issue


A student at the State University of New York at Binghamton was directed to remove a Penthouse magazine centerfold picture from the door of his dormitory due to its lewd and indecent nature. A female student had complained, and the university’s affirmative action office called the centerfold “degrading and abusive to women.” The student who posted the centerfold claimed that the display was protected by the First Amendment.

In the 1970s a feminist anti-pornography movement arose that argued pornography, and particularly violent pornography, was not entitled to First Amendment protection. See the events on November 17, 1978 (a feminist anti-pornography conference) and October 20, 1979 (a protest march on Times Square in New York City). The major event regarding the feminist anti-pornography movement was an Indianapolis anti-pornography ordinance giving women the right to sue the purveyors of pornography. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment on August 27, 1985.

Read the civil liberties position on pornography and free speech: Nadine Strossen, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (1995)

Learn more about the feminist anti-pornography movement: Leigh Ann Wheeler, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2013)

Learn more about the myths and facts about pornography: Marcia Pally, Sense and Censorship: The Vanity of the Bonfires (1991), http://mediacoalition.org/files/Sense-and-Censorship.pdf

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