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American Family Association Goes After Family Video

FARMINGTON, Missouri — A group of people are not backing down from their battle to remove adult videos from a local video store.

The St. Francois County American Family Association has been picketing in front of the Family Video store in Farmington for a year and a half in an effort to get the store to stop renting the videos that they say are pornographic.

But that’s not all they are doing. They are trying to convince the county prosecutor to help them force Family Video to remove the videos from the shelf.

To get St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Wendy Wexler Horn’s attention, the group collected more than 3,300 petitions from St. Francois County residents over the age of 18.

Six male members of the group and the president of the Missouri Family Network presented these petitions to Horn earlier this month and asked her to enforce a state law that they say makes such videos illegal.

Horn indicated the law they were referring to is not as clear-cut as the other laws she enforces.

She said material that is considered obscene is not protected by the First Amendment. She said the question is whether these adult videos are legally obscene. She said obscenity is determined by the community.

“The question remains what are the standards of St. Francois County?” she said.

Pornography is defined as books, magazines, films, pictures, and other such material depicting sexual acts that appeal to one’s prurient interests.

For any of this material to be considered obscene, an average person, complying with contemporary community standards, would have to find the material depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and that the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Horn told members of the group she wants to find out more about how the community feels. She said a random survey might be one way to do that. Most of the group’s signatures were collected through churches.

Horn told the group she was not going to make a decision right away. But she said the signatures they gathered showed the issue deserved at least further investigation on her part.

One member suggested going after the video store like mad bulldogs. He believes they would win and the video store would back down.

Another member said he wanted Horn to file charges. He said they have done their part and it was time for her to do her part.

Horn mentioned several options such as filing a civil injunction, putting the issue on the ballot, or taking it to the grand jury.

Horn said her job is to enforce the law. She said if the community is offended by the adult videos in the store then it is her job to do something about it.

Members asked Horn to check out the backroom to see what is there.

Horn said she already sent her staff members to look around the backroom.

“I have a pretty good idea of what is in there,” she said.

Both the Farmington Family Video store manager and the regional manager declined to comment about the matter. The regional manager said he did not want to comment or debate the issue in the press. When questioned about the back room, he did say that it was designed to be architecturally invisible.

The back room is hidden behind a wall in the back of the store. The only sign is on the entrance to the room, which states it is for adults only and patrons must be at least 18 years old.

A staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri said the courts have determined that most pornography does not fall into the category of obscene. She seemed surprised the local American Family Association was using the argument that these adult videos were obscene.

The staff attorney said each material would have to be looked at individually. She said there are certain kinds of pornography that do cross the line like child pornography and hard-core pornography that involves violence.

However, she said most material is not considered obscene and therefore is protected by the constitution. She said material that is considered obscene could be taken off the shelf.

She said that the American Family Association has every right to picket outside the business to try to get the store to voluntarily take the items off the shelf.

“Whether or not they have a right to have a lawsuit depends on what is being sold inside,” she said. She said she was not familiar with the kind of materials in this particular store.

She added it also depends on whether the community finds value in the materials.

“Something that might be considered obscene in Peoria might not be considered obscene in New York City,” she said.

She said cities can place certain restrictions. They can force a business to locate only in one area of town.

She said material can be restricted as to where it can be sold, who it can be sold to, what types of businesses can sell it and how the items are displayed in the store. She said even something like Playboy can be restricted in those ways.

In 2002, weeks after Dr. Johns purchased a business license, the Farmington city council approved ordinances that place restrictions on adult businesses. Existing businesses are protected by a grandfather provision.

One ordinance states that adult businesses must be located along arterial streets with access only from that side street. Such businesses cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a church, school, daycare, park, public building or property of residential zoning or use.

The second ordinance created a new category of business license known as “adult businesses.” The license is set up for businesses such as adult theaters, book stores, stores and cabarets.

The organizers say Family Video is misrepresenting themselves as a family video store. They added the store is in a visible location in Farmington.

They believe there are many people who do not know the store has these kind of videos in a backroom — they estimate there are more than 500 pornographic videos in the room. They have talked to people who have found the backroom room by accident. Members said the covers for the videos leave nothing to the imagination.

“As far as the other stores, we can only go after one at a time,” said Jeff Barron, president of the local family group. “…There’s only so many of us. We can only address one at a time.”

Barron said Movie Gallery does rent some adult videos but their videos aren’t as bad as the ones at Family Video.

Most videos of mature nature at Movie Gallery have their boxes covered and are found in the mature section. But some mature videos are found mixed in with the other videos.

Barron said they have talked about doing something about Doctor Johns. He wasn’t sure if the store was renting videos.

Only individuals over the age of 18 are allowed to shop at Doctor Johns, a store on U.S. 67 that sells adult toys and lingerie and has a large selection of adult videos.

Barron indicated he was hoping if Horn forced one store to remove their adult videos, she would force the others to do it, too. He said they were concerned about any business that sells or rents adult material.

Several years ago, members of the American Family Association met with former prosecutor Gary Stevenson and urged him to enforce the obscenity law

In March of 1992, Stevenson sent out letters to all video retailers, which were locally owned at the time, to tell them he would enforce Missouri laws against the distribution of obscene material. They were given 30 days to take the X-rated material off their shelves.

Store owners complied with the letter with some resistance. Many owners joined together to form a coalition against censorship. At the time, owners said their First Amendment rights were being violated.

In November of 2001, four members of the local American Family Association filed police reports complaining about Family Video’s backroom.

Members of the St. Francois County American Family Association, which has about a dozen active members and has been in existence for about two decades, have been picketing outside the store for two hours every Saturday since August of 2002. Members say they get more positive comments than negative comments.

Barron said these videos demean women and tear families apart. He said a husband who watches these videos is essentially cheating on his wife. Barron added that children are getting exposed to pornographic material at an earlier age.

Mike Ward, another member of the group, said pornography is something that is degrading to women and harmful to men. He said like a drug, it is something that men can get addicted to. He believes pornography can destroy a person mentally and spiritually and can destroy relationships with other people.

Ward said it is damaging to our community just like drugs. He said it can tie into crimes and influence people to commit sex crimes.

During the meeting, one member voiced his concerns about the connection between pornography and child molestation.

He said pornography, when watched over and over, feeds a person’s tendency for deviate sexual contact. He said if getting rid of porn could prevent one child from being sexually molested it would be worth it.

Horn said she did not know of any connection between pornography and molestation. She said she could not say that one causes the other.

Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, said research shows pornography is linked to sex crimes and violent crimes.

He told Horn they were not there to debate with her but asked her if officers investigating child molestation incidents could keep track of whether pornography was found at the defendant’s residence.

Messer is a lobbyist and was the author of the state’s statutes on obscenity in 1987. He said the statutes were used to close down a number of adult bookstores and “mom and pop video stores” in St. Louis and St. Louis County. He said people think that this county would have a higher community standard than St. Louis.

Members said they do not believe this community’s standards are that low.

The national organization started in 1977 after founder Don Wildmon, an ordained United Methodist minister, got disgusted with the television programs airing at that time.

Since then the American Family Association has represented and stood for traditional family values, focusing primarily on the influence of television and other media — including pornography — on our society.

The group believes that the entertainment industry, through its various products, has played a major role in the decline of those values on which the country was founded and which keeps the society and its families strong and healthy.

 

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