Last month the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association Meeting was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. What was different about this meeting than all other meetings was that this was the first meeting that Daniel Aaronson, President of the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association, presided over. Other than that event, we would like to say that this was the “same old, same old”. However, what we have realized is that it is not the “same old, same old”. In fact, it is amazing how the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association and the meetings that we attend have evolved over the years.
When we first started in the organization in the late 1980’s, almost all the presentations at the meetings dealt with obscenity, confiscation of pornographic materials and prior restraint on the dissemination of films and even theatrical performances. At the time we believed that this would be a never-ending fight and as we sit here today, in 2013, the fight would be continuing.
By the mid-1990’s, we starting hearing presentations by members of the organization that they were now fighting zoning and licensing battles. During these presentations, we looked at each other knowing that these would be fights that we would never have and that in our little corner of the world in South Florida, there would always be obscenity fights. Well, since that time we have fought numerous zoning and licensing fights in South Florida, along with others that have taken us across the country. For a number of years we were void of representing anybody charged with obscenity prosecutions and the vast majority of our First Amendment related practice dealt with those zoning and licensing fights. Likewise, for a number of years, the vast majority of presentations at our First Amendment seminars dealt with licensing and zoning fights.
Of course since the fights were zoning and licensing in nature, that meant that the fight was over the brick and mortar dance club or the brick and mortar adult book store. No longer was the fight over a movie, book or a theatrical presentation, but now the fight was over the actual physical establishment. From fighting over ideas, we were now fighting over places.
Now as we sit at our First Amendment Lawyers’ seminars, much of the presentations deal with the internet, copyright and piracy. In addition, other presentations deal with “how to do” various aspects of the law. The reason for this is that with the information age, all of us are equally able to receive information on a daily basis. Before our meetings begin we all pretty much have read the new cases and even have discussed them on line. What we do with that information now is the key point.
As the world evolves, so does our organization. As the world evolves, so do the attacks on the First Amendment. Regardless whether it is the obscenity prosecutions of the 80’s or the zoning and licensing fights of the 90’s and early 2000’s, and even now the fights over the internet, there always seem to be attacks on the First Amendment. With the internet, now again there are attacks based upon obscenity prosecutions. After all, obscenity prosecutions are based upon a community standard. Therefore, since the internet goes to basically every place on earth, various communities now have the ability to determine that what is being sent into their jurisdictions are obscene.
So after 25 years of being in the organization, we wonder if things are about to come full circle and once again, First Amendment Rights will be under attack based upon obscenity prosecutions. Then again, we hope we are wrong. Because of the internet will it now be determined that we are one community, being the United States, and not individual communities? If this is the case, then there will be one standard that will fit all. Those in Mississippi will then have to be tolerant of the views and expressions of those in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. But time will tell.
Regardless, we are honored to be members of the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association. The intelligence and the dedication of the members cannot be surpassed by any other organization. To sit in a room with these great minds, knowing that we are fighting for the same cause, gives one the sense of security that Freedom of Speech is safe. Yet we know it is a never ending fight, but we are proud to be part of it.