Act, utterance, writing, or illustration that is deemed deeply offensive according to contemporary community standards of morality and decency. Though most societies have placed restrictions on the content of literary and graphic works, it was not until relatively modern times that sexuality became a major focus of societal concern. One of the first systematic efforts to suppress books deemed to be immoral or heretical was undertaken by the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century. Modern obscenity laws can be viewed as direct responses to the social and technological changes (e.g., the creation of the printing press and the development of the Internet) that have permitted the wide and easy distribution of sexually explicit materials. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that materials are obscene if they appeal predominantly to a prurient interest in sexual conduct, depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Material deemed obscene under this definition is not protected in the U.S. by the free-speech guarantee of the 1st Amendment. See also freedom of speech; pornography.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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