Family Research Council

Military Families Deserve Decency

Cathy Ruse

Why is the U.S. Military using our tax dollars to stock its PX's with porn? It's a preposterous notion, and since 1996 it has been not only outrageous but illegal. Unfortunately it is still happening.

Over a decade ago, Congress passed the Military Honor and Decency Act to get Uncle Sam out of the business of selling and renting "sexually explicit" videos and magazines at its military installations and exchanges. In the view of Congress, this practice simply was not consistent with the core military values of honor and integrity, and undermined the efforts of military families to raise their children in a safe and decent environment. What's more, the military was still smarting from the Tailhook and Aberdeen sex scandals.  The bill was, as they say, a "no-brainer," and President Clinton signed it into law as part of a broader Defense authorization bill.

Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse, filed suit to enjoin the new law on constitutional grounds, claiming it violated soldiers' First Amendment rights. He won the first round in court, but the federal court of appeals disagreed with him, and the Supreme Court let that decision stand. Soldiers may have a constitutional right to view pornography (provided it is not "obscene"), but the government has no obligation under the Constitution to provide it to them. Many sexually explicit videos and magazines were removed from the shelves.

But the porn crept back.

In response to complaints by service members and their families, Family Research Council joined the Alliance Defense Fund and dozens of other family advocacy groups in appealing to the Secretary of Defense to end the sale of a long list of pornographic videos and magazines in various military exchanges.

The Department answered a few weeks ago. Leslye Arsht, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, explained that a Board of Review determines what materials are sexually explicit. According to the Board, the family groups got it partially right. Henceforth, wrote Arsht, "all 'Peach Video DVDs' shall be considered sexually explicit which include, 'Blonde and Beyond,' 'Girls Night In,' 'Import Skin,' 'Sex Symbols,' and 'Wet.'" The sale of these videos will no longer be permissible on DoD property, wrote Arsht.

As for the other materials cited in the letter of complaint, however, the Board concluded otherwise. In a statement utterly detached from reality, Arsht wrote:

[T]he Board reviewed Celebrity Skin, Penthouse, Perfect 10, Playboy, Playboy's College Girls, Playboy's Lingerie, Nude, Nude Playmates, and Playmates in Bed, and determined that, based solely on the totality of each magazine's content, they were not sexually explicit. Therefore, the sale of these magazines on DoD property is permissible.

The Military Honor and Decency Act defines "sexually explicit material" as material "produced in any medium, the dominant theme of which depicts or describes nudity, including sexual or excretory activities or organs, in a lascivious way." Congress could not have been clearer in what it meant to accomplish with the Military Honor and Decency Act. It appears that those in charge of implementing it are doing what they can to avoid it.

According to Arsht, the Review Board concluded Penthouse and Nude were not sexually explicit based on "the totality of each magazine's content." This smacks of legal tricky.  The fact that these magazines contain non-explicit content is to be expected, but it doesn't change their nature or render their sexually explicit content any less so. The Board can't really think people buy them for the articles.

The controlling phrase in the Act's definition is "dominant theme." Could the dominant theme of a magazine called Nude which features nude photographs be something other than nudity?

Pornography is serious business. It assaults the humanity of the men and women it depicts. It degrades and desensitizes its consumers, and makes them accomplices to its attack on human dignity.

In the United States it is also big business, and doesn't need Uncle Sam to pimp as middle man.

Bob Guccione lost Penthouse in a bankruptcy sale a few years ago, but it looks like he won his case after all.

Cathy Ruse is Senior Fellow for Legal Studies at Family Research Council.

Meet The Author
Cathy Ruse Senior Fellow - Legal Studies

Cathy Ruse has devoted her professional career to promoting the dignity of the human person. Her professional experience spans the fields of communication, public policy, and law. (Full Bio)

Other Recent Articles

(More by this author)