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Book Censorship Is Law's Threat, Group Charges

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Attorneys representing a coalition of media groups, retailers, and civil-libertarians told a federal judge in Atlanta this month that enactment of a new censorship law in Georgia would oblige public libraries to remove "hundreds" of books from their shelves.

The new law, passed by a wide margin by state legislators last spring, prohibits the public display of printed or pictorial material that depicts nudity or sexual acts, or that in any other way could "arouse lust or passion in children."

The law was barred from going into effect as scheduled on July 1, however, by a temporary restraining order obtained by the coalition of opponents.

"Once you stop to think about it, if you were to eliminate the display of all books that in any way depict sexual acts or nudity, you wouldn't have very much left," said Michael Bamberger, chief counsel for the group challenging the law. "The law completely neglects imposing legal tests such as judging the material as a whole or determining whether it's patently offensive."

Both Mr. Bamberger and Hinson McAuliffe, the solicitor general of Fulton County, Ga., and chief defense attorney in the case, agreed that the law's primary intent is to prevent minors from obtaining adult magazines from grocery or convenience stores.

The attorneys differed, however, in their interpretations of the law's breadth and scope. "The point has been made from time to time that the Canterbury Tales could be attacked under this law, but that simply is not going to happen," Mr. McAuliffe said.

"Not only would the classics be covered under this law, but art books, collections of poetry, and pretty much any other printed material you could imagine," countered Mr. Bamberger.

The case was heard in early September, and U.S. District Court Judge Horace Ward is expected to issue his ruling within the next few weeks, according to Mr. McAuliffe.--T.M.

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