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Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation

Should Stand-up Comics Be Censored?

In 1964, Lenny Bruce was brought to trial for using obscene words during a stand-up routine. Whereas mainstream comedians of his era remain in the popular imagination chiefly for their jokes, Bruce , who died in 1966, is viewed as an avant-garde figure who stood for free speech.

But some would ask if Bruce stood for free speech or filthy speech. Using the standards adopted by the Supreme Court in later obscenity cases, was there any "redeeming social value" to Bruce's humor?

Defenders of Bruce, on the other hand--a group which includes a number of civil libertarians--would say that the free speech of a foul-mouthed comedian is all the more to be protected precisely because it does offend many people. If a society can decide which types of free speech to protect, and which to let fall prey to censorship, who can say where the lines will be drawn? Perhaps the very religious groups who would be least likely to feel sympathetic toward a Lenny Bruce might find themselves the next target for censorship.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation - Obscene Or Offensive Speech, Filthy Words, Patently Offensive Language Hits The Fan, Legal Proceedings