Hardcore porn film at the eye of free speech storm

April 16, 2009

Students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore defied efforts by state legislators to stop them showing a pornographic film, claiming that the intrusion represented an attack on academic freedom.

Maryland's Student Union had planned to screen Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge on 3 April, but the university cancelled the event after Senator Andrew P. Harris introduced a Bill to withhold funds from any public university that allowed porn films to be shown on campus.

After students claimed that their rights to free speech and academic freedom had been infringed, university administrators reversed the decision.

The Washington Post newspaper quoted a student as saying: "It's not about porn at all. It's the precedent of a legislator pulling funding for an entire university based on an issue of morality."

The screening went ahead on 6 April. Students watched 30 minutes of the two and a half hour film after hearing four experts discuss freedom of speech. In a statement, Maryland said it "respects the right of a free society to offer opinion".

It added: "Last week, following cancellation of this movie ... we pointed out that we would explore other ways to return to the topics of responsible decision-making and the effects of pornography.

"On their own, student groups moved to create a discussion event during which they planned to screen excerpts from a pornographic film and explore issues surrounding the place and implications of pornography and constitutionally protected free speech in our community.

"Although not condoning this movie ... Maryland must allow this event, but has insisted it include an educational component."

Senator Harris later withdrew his threat to withhold funds from the university. But before the screening, he was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that it "should stop any showing of it right now until a clear policy is developed ... regarding the conditions under which a ... hardcore pornography movie will be shown on campus".

He added that the policy should consider "the dangers of pornography ... and (its) addictive nature".

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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