States have the power to regulate public exhibition of obscene material.
State officials in Georgia sought to enjoin the showing of allegedly obscene films at the Paris Adult Theatre. The theatre clearly warned potential viewers of the sexual nature of the films and required that patrons be at least 21 years of age.
Did the Georgia injunction against the films violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression?
No, the Georgia injunction against the films did not violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression.
The interests of the state cannot justify the substantial damage to constitutional rights that inevitably results from state efforts to bar the distribution of obscene material to consenting adults.
“Obscenity” at most is the expression of offensive ideas. But consenting adults who have chosen to watch a pornographic film are not likely to be “offended” by viewing content they voluntarily paid to view.
The Court held that obscene films did not acquire constitutional protection simply because they were exhibited for consenting adults only. Conduct involving consenting adults was not always beyond the scope of governmental regulation. The Court found that there were “legitimate state interests at stake in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity,” including the community’s quality of life and public safety. The Court also noted that conclusive proof of a connection between antisocial behavior and obscene materials was not necessary to justify the Georgia law.