Civil Liberties

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It began as a private pressure campaign against a pair of art photography books. But it has turned into serious criminal indictments against Barnes & Noble.

Last year, two prominent Christian activists, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Randall Terry, founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, began condemning the works of Jock Sturges and David Hamilton, both of whom have photographed nude children. Protests, including the willful destruction of unbought copies of a Sturges book in Barnes & Noble stores, hit about 40 cities.

In November, protests morphed into prosecutions. A grand jury in Tennessee indicted the bookstore chain on the misdemeanor charge of distributing "material harmful to minors" without keeping it wrapped in plastic (to prevent browsers from looking at it) and five feet or more off the floor. The books in question are Hamilton's The Age of Innocence and Sturges's The Last Days of Summer and Radiant Identities. All three include nude photographs of children, but none of them are in sexual situations.

In February, two criminal indictments for violating child pornography statutes were brought against Barnes & Noble in Alabama for selling Radiant Identities and The Age of Innocence. Between the two indictments, Barnes & Noble faces 35 counts, with a potential $10,000 fine per count.

In further action, a citizen petition in Kansas has led to an inquiry by a special prosecutor and a grand jury into whether selling Sturges's books violates child porn laws. California Assemblyman Bruce Thompson is proposing a state law with second-offense fines of up to $10,000 for selling books presenting kids engaged in what he defines as "sexual conduct." And UPI reported on February 18 that the U.S.
Justice Department is investigating the works of Sturges and Hamilton for child porn violations as part of an FBI undercover operation known as "Innocent Images."

Sturges's work was the subject of a 1991 anti-child porn crusade in San Francisco, but the grand jury refused to indict. His work appears in many museums, including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The leaders of the campaign against Sturges's and Hamilton's books are not subtle about their intentions. Randall Terry told World magazine that "we have a moral obligation to be…as intolerant as we possibly can be" of such material. Alabaman David Lackey, who told The New York Times he had called the state attorney general's attention to the books, said he hopes that if Barnes & Noble is found guilty, "it will have a chilling effect on the other bookstores in this country."