Petitioners, two movie theaters and their owns and managers in Atlanta, operated “adult” style theaters. The local state district attorney and the solicitor for the local state trial court filed complaints against petitioners alleging that they were exhibiting to the public obscene films in violation of Georgia Code Ann.
The First Amendment does not protect obscene material as a limitation on the state police power by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Owners and managers of two movie theaters in Atlanta exhibited obscene films, which depicted sexual conduct characterized by the Georgia Supreme Court as “hard core pornography” to the public for paid admissions. The two theaters had a conventional, inoffensive entrance, without any pictures, but with signs indicating that the theaters exhibit “Atlanta’s Finest Mature Feature Films.” The signs also said anyone must be 21 to be able to watch and if viewing the nude body offends you, do not enter.
Is the Georgia law that prohibits exhibition of obscene films to the public for paid admission contrary to the First Amendment principle?
Yes, obscene material has no protection under the First Amendment. Commerce in obscene material is unprotected by any constitutional doctrine of privacy. Georgia has a legitimate interest in regulating commerce in obscene material and in regulating exhibition of obscene material in places of public accommodation including adult theaters where minors are not allowed.
While Roth states that obscenity falls outside the area of speech protected by the First Amendment, this Court’s efforts to implement that approach demonstrate that agreement on the existence of obscenity is still a long step from agreement on its definition. This has been the area this Court has been unable to separate obscenity from other sexually oriented but constitutionally protected speech.
The effort to suppress obscenity is based on unprovable assumptions about human behavior and morality and these assumptions cannot validate a statute that substantially undermines the guarantees of the First Amendment. Whatever the state interests are, such interests cannot justify the substantial damage to constitutional rights.
The States have had a long-recognized legitimate interest in regulating the use of obscene material in local commerce and in all places of public accommodation so long as the regulations do not violate specific constitutional prohibitions. The Court’s precedents have recognized the interest of the public in the quality of life and community environment and public safety. Records indicate a correlation between obscene material and crime. Thus, the Georgina Code Ann has lawfully prohibited the two movie theaters from exhibiting obscene films to the public.