Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Old Does He Have To Be To Be Historic?

It’s my first week here at Oh Get a Grip, so I thought I’d warm up with a joke, but I can’t top kitty litter smuggling, so I’ll be serious. I promise it won’t always be this way.

One of the most important ideas incorporated into the Bill of Rights of the United States was voiced by the French philosopher, Voltaire.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

But Voltaire isn’t my choice this week. Instead, as the fight for freedom of speech is ongoing, I decided to focus on someone who is currently fighting for this idea, H. Louis Sirkin.

During the Ashcroft regime, when the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights were under serious attack by people who abused the power of the US Government, my writing blog was frequently visited by the Department of Justice. Since I could see the link they used to reach my blog, and the links they followed out of it, I knew that the DoJ was spying on other erotica writers. Much to their dismay, I’m sure, there were no stories posted on my blog, but they kept checking. The visits became less frequent under Gonzales, but continued until he, too, left in disgrace. Then the surveillance stopped.

As an erotica writer, I know the danger inherent in my genre. I use pen names, but that’s an illusion of protection. The DoJ could easily track me down and try to destroy my life. If they couldn’t get a conviction, they could at least drag me through the media and try to make me lose my day job. They’ve done it to owners of other erotica sites. If I had posted erotic content, any government entity could have charged me with obscenity. At that point, I would have turned to Mr. Sirkin.

So why is this guy so great?

In 1990, the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, Ohio, held an exhibit of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. The director of the center was charged with obscenity and the police closed the exhibit. H. Louis Sirkin successfully defended the director against the charges. That case that had the far-reaching effect of protecting visual art inside and outside Ohio. But that’s not his only important case. He successfully defended Larry Flynt of Hustler against obscenity charges. Mr. Sirkin also argued against the over-broad language of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 in front of the Supreme Court. As the law prohibited the depiction of anyone appearing to be underage in anything that could be construed as sexual, it could be used to prosecute theater groups that staged Romeo and Juliet, consenting adults indulging in age play, Judy Bloom novels, or Abercrombie and Fitch ads. The Supreme Court agreed with him.

While you may look askance at his clients, remember that while you may think there’s a huge difference between you and those cases, there are people don't. You see shades of gray; they, to borrow from a tale of morality enforcement run amok, see only a scarlet letter. So I’m glad to have this opportunity to introduce you to the man who works to protect our first amendment rights from those who try to silence the voices of writers and artists. May you never be in need of his services.


  1. Welcome to the Grip!

    I'm still settling in myself. : )

    Wonderful post! I couldn't help thinking while I was reading about George Carlin and his battles with censorship.


  2. Hello, Kathleen,

    A hearty Grip welcome to you! And what a fabulous start to what I hope will be a long tenure!

    If the DoJ had you under surveillance, I wonder what they thought of me and my website. Scary. On the other hand, what we do is NOT illegal, though they might like it to be.

    Remittance Girl's new Coming Together collection benefits the ACLU. They're like Sirkin. They defend everyone's right to free speech, even neo-Nazis.

    Thanks for a dynamite first post!


  3. Kathleen,

    Wonderful first post. And a fascinating introduction to the inestimable Mr Sirkin. I have to admit, I'm surprised to find myself admiring a lawyer. I'm going to have to take back some of the things I've often said about people from that profession :-)

    It's good to have you here at the Grip.


  4. Great tribute! We need people like Sirkin and the ACLU more than ever.

  5. Thank you all for the warm welcome.

    It's a pleasure to join this group.


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