Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sex and religion in the public square

Carol Platt Liebau observes that we seem to be O.K. with salacious advertising in the public square, but not with religious symbols. If I’m offended by the former, I’m told that I can simply avert my eyes. And if I become politically activist about such things, I’m told that I’m at best a prude and at worst a theocrat. What does this say about our culture?

I made a vaguely similar point about sex and religion in schools here. We can talk about sex in the schools because it’s a public health matter, even if sex and sexuality are also fraught with religious and moral significance. But let’s not talk about religion....

Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.

Discussions - 5 Comments

If I’m offended by the former [salacious advertising in the public square], I’m told that I can simply avert my eyes.

I trust you weren’t referring to my comment referring to your statement in this thread, because I didn’t tell you to "simply avert your eyes." Not at all. Personally, I don’t think that the "if you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it" defense is a strong one in matters regarding public displays, be they state-owned or private. That is why I questioned your use of the defense regarding public Christmas displays. I am NOT in favor of x-rated billboards (or even R-rated ones) and, as I said, have mixed feelings on the holiday displays. But I do think that their toleration shouldn’t be based on the fact that no one is physically forcing us to look at them, as you appeared to imply.


, No, I wasn’t thinking of your comment on that thread. My concern is that the emphasis on essentially private responses to the coarsening of the public square very much weakens the hands of those who wish to preserve the innocence and decency of their children. It’s impossible to disengage, short of moving to a compound in the middle of nowhere (which I don’t think I’d ever propose). But the only censorship many people are willing to countenance is of religious symbolism, because it offends some. Those who are offended by sexually explicit or implicit advertising seem to have no recourse.

The x-rated billboard issue wouldn’t be a problem in Vermont, where billboards are outlawed completely. But I know, no one here at NLT would "countenance" that possibility elsewhere - too much regulation of business, too much infringement on the blessed free market, and there’s no way you’d take any ideas from a liberal state like Vermont!

I think it’s easier to define and identify religious symbols than it is to define and identify salacious advertisement. There are significant differences between agreeing on what local/state/federal government should allow on publicly owned property to represent "us", what we will as a community display there, and what a private business can or should put in their shop windows or on banners, ads, and billboards. Also, since much of the public square, formerly known as "the commons", has been gobbled up as private entities, there are fewer and fewer places where this debate about the "public square" is meaningful.

I don’t know what the NLT bloggers think about regulating billboards (for size, content, etc.). But I am certain that many conservatives (myself for instance) are willing to support legislation of this sort. A free market economy and free speech are very good things but not so good that they cannot be prudently ordered or moderated. Decency and public aesthetics are also good things.

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