Maryland universities defy order to regulate pornography

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 4:08 PM

Regents of Maryland's state university system voted Wednesday to defy a legislative order to regulate pornography on campus, concluding that any such rules would be impossible to enforce.

The legislature gave Maryland's state-funded universities until Dec. 1 to submit policies on "the displaying or screening of obscene films and materials," language written into the state budget in April.

Maryland's General Assembly asked for the rules in response to a dust-up over the proposed screening last spring of the adult film "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" at the University of Maryland. State Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) threatened to deny state funds if the university allowed a full screening. Instead, portions of the film were shown on campus.

The university system consulted with the attorney general's office and with Robert M. O'Neil, a First Amendment expert at the University of Virginia. Researchers determined such a rule would make the University System of Maryland the first higher education entity in the nation to adopt rules for the acceptable use of pornographic films on campus. Upon further review, they decided it would be legally indefensible.

A report to the university system's Board of Regents from Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan states that any policy "would put the universities in an untenable position and subject [them] to legal challenges." Regents voted Wednesday afternoon to accept Kirwan's recommendation.

The review found that pornographic materials generally have constitutional protection unless they are deemed obscene. But "there are few, if any, films that have been declared obscene by any court," the report states. As a result, top legal minds "have not been able to draft a policy that is narrowly targeted toward 'obscene' films."

A broader rule to govern pornography would probably be found unconstitutional, the report states, because governmental restrictions on speech must be "content and viewpoint neutral," and cannot be confined to adult films.

Enforcing such a rule might require the creation of a panel to review all films shown on every campus for "purely entertainment purposes," the report states, to determine whether they might need to be augmented with an educational component.

That no other public university in the nation has a policy on pornographic displays "speaks volumes," the report states.

The legislative requirement applies to the 11 colleges and universities in the state system, along with Morgan State University, St. Mary's College of Maryland and Baltimore City Community College.

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