DES MOINES – Dozens of Iowa inmates have filed a lawsuit challenging a ban on pornography which has affected the state’s prisons in recent weeks.
The law, which took effect Nov. 14, prohibits pornographic material and puts an end to “pornography reading rooms” in all of Iowa’s nine state prisons.
A lawsuit filed by 58 inmates at Fort Dodge Correctional Institution claims the new state regulations are unconstitutional. The suit calls for an end to the ban and for $25,000 to be awarded to each inmate.
Thirty years ago, a similar ban was brought to court, where a federal judge found that the law’s language on “explicit material” was unconstitutionally ambiguous. The law was then revised to more closely match the Supreme Court’s ruling on obscenity laws.
The director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center, Mark Kende, told CNA that the previous law’s specific description only banned incredibly hard-core pornography, but continued to allow for less extreme material.
Kende said the new law, however, is a little less specific than the edited law of 30 years ago, and uses a more general depiction of sexually explicit material that would also include what is generally considered soft-core porn.
“‘Sexually explicit’ means a pictorial depiction of actual or simulated sexual acts including sexual intercourse, oral sex, or masturbation,” reads the law.
“Sexually explicit material does not include material of a news or information type. Publications concerning research or opinions on sexual, health, or reproductive issues should be admitted unless the publications are otherwise a threat to legitimate institutional interests,” the law says.
Further clarifications are needed, Kende said, pointing to example of magazines such as Playboy, which has both sexual content and non-sexual articles. Without more clarity in the law, it is uncertain where the courts would come down on the regulation, he said.
“You don’t have that assurance that it will be something that the court will say this is just a ban on obscenity,” he said. “[They] are trying to ban more than obscenity.”
However, he said the law may have enough “specificity in it and it is possible that it will be upheld because of that, but it is not perfect.”