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The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2006)
By Fred Lane

“In a nation where freedom of speech is one of the first principles secured by the Bill of Rights, how is it that any agency of the federal government has the authority to punish broadcasters for what they put on the air?”

Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the halftime show at the 2004 Super Bowl sparked a resurgence in the national debate about government regulation of speech in general, and broadcast media in particular, argues First Amendment specialist Fred Lane in this spirited account of the long-running battle over “decency” in American culture.

Lane traces the decency debate from its roots in the English Reformation through the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition to the recent activism of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in combating perceived indecency.

From moveable type to the internet, every new communication medium has triggered concerns about changing standards of decency, writes Lane. But he sees the current “decency wars” spearheaded by politically influential religious conservatives as symptomatic of an unprecedented threat to American pluralism. A government committed to true decency, Lane argues, would focus less on attempting to regulate sexual morality, and more on treating its citizens with basic human compassion, and being a moral participant in the world community.

—Jane Whitehead


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