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'Porn policy' rejected by University of Maryland's Board of Regents

November 16, 2009

MARYLAND -- The University of Maryland's Board of Regents has decided not to implement a proposed "porn policy" that would have required films screened on campus for entertainment purposes to have an educational element.

The policy, originally requested by Maryland state senator Andy Harris, R-Baltimore County, as a response to a planned screening of a pornographic film on campus, sparked months of debate about First Amendment rights on campus.

"The students couldn't be happier," said Sarah Elfreth, appointed student member of the University of Maryland system Board of Regents. "We really feel like this is a victory for free speech."

Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, a self-described XXX-rated film, was going to be shown on Saturday, April 4 in the school's student union theater. The initial screening was cancelled, and portions of it were shown April 6, accompanied by a discussion of the importance of free speech.

After the initial screening was cancelled, Senator Harris asked the Board of Regents to create the policy, and threatened to withhold funding from the school system if a policy was not implemented.

The Board of Regents, with the assistance of Robert O'Neil, former director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, worked to create a draft policy that would require any film shown on campus for entertainment purposes to include an "educational component," Elfreth said.

"Even with the best constitutional policy we could create, we couldn't guarantee it would be held up in court," she said. "And really it wasn't a good policy because of the administrative burdens it would create. It's too ambiguous. We would have to have an administrator who could screen all films shown on campus and come up with an educational component."

Elfreth said students, faculty members and administrators were all unhappy with the proposed policy.

"What the board said [Wednesday] is that we're going to follow the laws of the land," she said.

Elfreth said she is glad the wisdom and experience of the administrators and members of the board of regents led them to the decision not to implement a porn policy.

"We know what we're talking about more than the state legislature," she said. "I don't go in to Andy Harris' operating room and tell him how to operate."

Harris, who is a physician,, was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said he is not surprised there was no policy implemented.

"I think the outcome for this was pretty obvious," Goldstein said. "It was an attempt to prohibit the viewing of legal, expressive material."

He said colleges are precisely where expressive material should be protected.

"It may well be that porn is fringe content, but a college campus is exactly the right place for fringe content to be shown," he said.

By Michael Edwards, SPLC staff writer

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© 2009 Student Press Law Center

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