The Law: Surprise, Surprise: A Dirty Speech Is Illegal

In the now familiar politics of obscenity, it is taken for granted that speakers can jolt audiences with four-letter words. That notion may be premature. At the University of Utah last April, Black Militant Victor Gordon told the audience—students, local citizens, law-enforcement officials—that most Americans are too inhibited to utter the familiar earthy phrase that is a blunt description of a form of incest. Gordon invited the audience to join him in shouting the term at the count of three. With seemingly infantile glee, numerous people shouted away.

Gordon was duly arrested for violating Utah's obscenity statute, which makes it "unlawful for...

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