Pornography bill raises First Amendment concerns, Wyoming representative disagrees

When the 2018 Wyoming Legislature introduced a bill declaring pornography a public health crisis, questions rose as to whether or not this would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Jim Angell, the recently retired executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said he had major concerns about the bill.

“Once you declare something a health risk that gives the state an awful lot of authority to impose what it sees as remedy,” Angell said.

Amber Phillips, a Washington Post writer, said in her article “Porn has been declared a ‘public health crisis’ in Utah. Here’s why.” that swaying the argument away from the First Amendment and focusing on the public health risks is a smart way to modernize the argument.

Yet, there are people like Angell and Wyoming Rep. Daniel Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who argue that it is indeed a First Amendment issue.

“Clearly it has First Amendment issues on adults being able to do what they want to do without a legitimate government purpose,” Zwonitzer said.

“I am concerned about any law that would place restrictions on language that has been found constitutional already by the Supreme Court,” Angell said.

On the other side, Matt Walsh from the Daily Wire wrote about how porn is not protected by the First Amendment in his article, “5 Reasons Why Porn Should Be Banned.”

“Miller v. California found that obscenity is not protected speech and can be censored,” Walsh wrote. “Here’s an interesting fact: Federal law already prohibits the distribution of obscene material. But the law is not applied or enforced as it should be.”

States such as Utah have already passed legislation declaring pornography a public health crisis.

Rep. Lars Lone from Laramie County, head sponsor of House Joint Resolution No. 1 declaring pornography as a public health crisis, said that resolutions like these are not violating the First Amendment because there are already federals laws in place that put requirements on pornographic material.

“The measure calls for education and policy changes to stop pornography exposure and addiction, which the resolution says leads to the hypersexualization of teens, prostitution and cheating spouses, among other problems,” Melissa Chan, a Time reporter, wrote in her article “Utah Governor Declares Pornography a Public Health Crisis.”

Angell said however, that a lot of people may find porn offensive, but people need to be reminded that the First Amendment was created to protect offensive language.

“The kind of speech that most needs protection by the First Amendment is unpopular or offensive speech,” Angell said.  

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