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ACLU: Maine Vote Sends National Signal

June 11, 1986

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) _ Maine voters’ vehement rejection of a measure to outlaw pornography is ″a very good test of general sentiment″ and shows Americans don’t want government censorship, a civil liberties lawyer said Wednesday.

″Citizens don’t like government to tell them what they cannot see and read,″ said Barry W. Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union’s office in Washington.

With unofficial returns in from 665 of 669 precincts, the vote was 72 percent to 28 percent against the referendum, which was placed on Tuesday’s ballot through a petition drive by the conservative Christian Civic League of Maine.

Lynn said he interpreted the vote as a repudiation of arguments that pornography plays a role in sexual violence.

″I don’t think the citizens of Maine bought that and I don’t think they should have bought it,″ said Lynn. ″I think this is a very important message to be sent to the rest of the country.″

Christopher Finan, director of the Media Coalition, a national publishers and book wholesalers’ group, said, ″I certainly hope this causes people around the country to take pause and reflect on the fact that this position is anti-First Amendment and is very much a minority view.″

In Maine, feminist groups applauded the vote and extended an olive branch to the civic league to work together in support of what they see as more meaningful legislation to combat rape, child abuse and other forms of aggression.

″We hope a lesson has been learned in this referendum,″ said Betsy Sweet, director of Maine Commission for Women. ″We’re tired of the interests of women and children being used as political fodder.″

Leaders of the Maine Coalition on Rape, Women’s Lobby and other feminist groups also applauded the bill’s defeat.

It would have provided a jail term of up to five years for the sale or promotion of books, magazines, videos and other materials found to be obscene. Pornography was defined under the referendum as material that appeals to ″the prurient interest in sex,″ is ″patently offensive″ in their depiction of sexual acts, and taken as a whole lacks ″serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.″ A similar referendum in California was defeated in 1971.

Attorney General James E. Tierney, who won the Democratic primary, said the vote showed the independence of state voters, adding ″there isn’t a single person in Maine″ who opposed the measure because they favor hard-core pornography.

The Republican nominee, Rep. John R. ″Jock″ McKernan Jr., said he did not regret supporting it. But he said as governor, he would not renew the effort to pass an anti-obscenity law.

Gov. Joseph E. Brennan applauded the outcome, saying, ″We ought to be fighting (pornography) in the churches, schools and homes.″

″All of the voters, whether they voted yes or no, still reject pornography and see it as a social problem,″ said Charles Devoe, chairman of the Maine Citizens Against Government Censorship. ″I hoped that we would win by a fair number because I don’t think the people in Maine would like to lose the right to think for themselves.″

Jasper ″Jack″ Wyman, the executive director of the Christian Civic League, said ″the crucial issues raised in this campaign have yet to be resolved.

″It would be a serious error to interpret these results as an indication of the people’s lack of resolve in combating the serious and growing problem of pornography.″

George A. Smith, campaign director for proponents, said he knew their cause was in trouble when TV ads appeared showing literary classics being burned.

″That was the most powerful TV ad I’ve seen in politics,″ Smith said. ″When I saw the ads my stomach dropped out. I knew they had hit a home run.″

Maine Citizens Against Government Censorship began running its ads, showing such books as ″The Grapes of Wrath″ and the American Heritage Dictionary being burned, about two weeks before the election.

Smith said his opponents successfully turned the issue into a vote on censorship, not pornography, and credited their ″masterful campaign.″

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