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‘Porn policy’ under review at U. of Maryland

MARYLAND — The University of Maryland is seeking input from students on a new “porn policy,” which the school’s Board of Regents plans to vote on Friday, Oct. 23. Some students feel the restrictions in the policy would infringe upon their First Amendment rights.

Students were given a chance to voice their opinions at a forum held by the Student Government Association on Tuesday, Oct. 13, where the SGA President and a member of the Board of Regents took questions and listened to concerns.

University officials have been asked to draft the policy after an event last March where Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge, a self-proclaimed “XXX” film, was to be shown on the campus. Maryland state senator Andy Harris, R-Baltimore County, threatened to withhold funds from the school if it allowed the screening to continue.

A partial screening of the movie took place April 6, along with a discussion about free speech and pornography, according to The Washington Post. In response to the screening, Harris asked the state Board of Regents to draft a policy that would require films shown on campus to have an educational component.

“Basically, the policy would say that after a certain date, any student group … that shows a film for entertainment purposes will be required to provide an educational component,” SGA President Steve Glickman said.

He said students voiced concerns with what could happen if state legislators become involved in determining what speech is allowed on campuses.

“People don’t think that the state legislature should be monitoring and limiting what should and should not be seen on campus,” Glickman said.

Sarah Elfreth, the governor-appointed student member of the Board of Regents who attended UMD’s Tuesday night forum, said the policy is intended to go in to effect on Dec. 1, after the vote on Oct. 23.

She said the board is required to enact the policy because of the state’s unique funding structure for education. Maryland legislators have the authority to make cuts to the state budget after it has been created by the governor, putting legislators like Harris in the position to compel schools to enact policies, lest their funding be cut.

“It’s a precarious situation,” Elfreth said.

Elfreth said the board is working to address the concerns of the students while still complying with Harris’ request. She said the board has had help from Robert O’Neil, former University of Virginia president and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, to ensure the policy does not violate First Amendment rights.

“One of my goals is to make it a little more clear. Students are asking, and rightfully so, whose going to be in charge of enforcing this policy, and who is going to be in charge of determining the educational component,” she said.

Elfreth said she hopes deference will be given to student groups to determine exactly what an “educational component” means.

“Films screened for entertainment purposes are screened for that reason,” she said. “Students feel like they’re constantly in classes and doing homework. Sometimes they want to unwind.”

Harris issued a statement to the press explaining his motivation in encouraging the creation of the policy. In the statement, he said he is concerned with the issue of taxpayer protection, and had no intention of infringing on First Amendment rights of students.

“My goal in unequivocally not to interfere with freedom of speech,” Harris said in the statement. “This is simply a matter of taxpayers footing the bill for the screening of pornographic material and I think that’s an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.”

Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, a law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, said the issue has been overblown and is missing the mark of where the state Senate’s focus should be directed.

“At the beginning, everyone was afraid of Sen. Harris’ [policy],” Raskin said. “But the energy of one of these moral panics dissipates rather quickly, and people come back to their First Amendment senses and realize how silly it all is.”

Raskin said the decision to watch or not watch the film should be left up to the individuals, not the university.

“The whole point of the First Amendment is if you disapprove of a triple-X movie, you can simply boycott it,” he said. “Nobody is forced to see anything.”

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