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Citizens of Florida should be aware of many things. The marine ecosystem, for instance, and the importance of peaceful cultural coexistence. And now, according to Governor Lawton Chiles, they should prick up their ears and widen their eyes for pornography. According to an official state proclamation, signed by Chiles and attested to by Secretary of State Jim Smith, the week of October 27, 1991 has been designated Pornography Awareness Week in Florida.
What does that mean? That law-abiding Floridians should take copious notes ®MDNM¯while watching X-rated movies? Analyze and discuss the function of the nude centerfold in contemporary America?
Well, almost. According to the text of the proclamation, Floridians should use the week to contemplate the moral rot of society, to muster indignation at the "tremendous suffering and damage" inflicted by pornography upon our fine state. "Basically, it's just calling attention to the fact that pornography is exploitative and encouragin®MDBO¯®MDNM¯g public awareness of the exploitative nature of pornography," clarifies Julie Anbender, Chiles's press secretary.
And the new sensitivity doesn't stop at the state line. Pornography Awareness Week runs concurrently with the fourth National White Ribbon Against Pornography Campaign. "Millions of Americans throughout this great Nation," Chiles's proclamation states proudly, "will be displaying white ribbons as symbols of decent community standards to be protected by enforcement of obscenity laws."
Even if demarcating "decent community standards" with physical badges didn't smack of fascism (yellow stars and pink hearts aren't found only in Lucky Charms), there's the small matter of the Bill of Rights. "Governor Chiles has this blind spot when it comes to highly controversial expressive material, and sometimes he finds it so offensive that he finds it difficult to recognize its constitutional protection," says Robyn E. Blumner, executive director of the Florida ACLU. "The reasoning of the proclamation fails to recognize that pornography is protected under the First Amendment. Only obscene material may be criminal."
The Governor's office, however, categorically denies that any civil liberties have been compromised. "Governor Chiles is very much co®MDNM¯ncerned about balancing freedom of speech and preventing exploitation," insists Anbender, "very mindful of the importance of protecting First Amendment rights at the same time that he signs this proclamation. There's a careful line that you need to walk when you talk about what is pornography."
In addition to assuming a direct link between pornography and anti-social behavior, the proclamation vibrates with alarm over how "the sanctity of Americans' homes has been invaded by dial-a-porn, cable porn, video porn, satellite-to-dish porn, radio porn, computer porn, and rock-music porn." Disturbed at the implication of "invasion," the ACLU swiftly countered with a memo explaining that the rental of X-rated videotapes, or the purchase of skin mags, is "a choice which is fundamentally the right of every adult American to make."
Even though it's only a week, and a symbolic week at that - Anbender says that she knows of no planned events - opponents of Pornography Awareness Week fear that the proclamation will carry Florida further into the Land of the Constitutionally Lost. "What's a real shame is that we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights and I don't see a proclamation for First Amendment week or anti-censorship week," laments Blumner. "A few weeks ago, we celebrated Banned Books Week to insure that the public was aware of the dangers of literary censorship. I didn't see our state government signing on to that bandwagon. And yet with a pen mark, our governor signs on to what
can only be construed as an anti-constitutional measure.