Feature Indecency Laws

Find out more about the history of indecency laws in the U.S.

Indecency Laws

More from Wes on indecency laws.

Anthony Comstock’s anti-obscenity law spawned a legacy of arrests, court orders, and ruined lives, based upon what the government deemed obscene, indecent, or politically dangerous.

In the late 1800s, suffragette Ida Craddock published a series of sex education manuals.

Her continued defense of sex advice resulted in her imprisonment in five jails and two mental institutions.

In 1902, she was arrested for the last time. Rather than serve another prison term, Craddock committed suicide.

Another crusader for women's reproductive rights, Margaret Sanger, also fell afoul of the Comstock Law.

In 1933, after several unsuccessful years lobbying Congress to repeal the Comstock Law, Sanger turned to the Courts.

The case arose after a Japanese doctor sent Sanger several packages of diaphragms in the mail.

When they were seized at customs, she contested the Comstock Law on the grounds that the birth-control devices were meant for legal medical purposes.

The courts agreed, and dealt the Comstock Law a body blow. Contraception, the judge argued, was both safe and medically sound, a key argument to Sanger’s detractors.

Today the Comstock Law remains officially active, but largely unenforced. But as long as it's on the books, however, some fear it could once again be used by lawmakers and politicians as a tool of censorship.