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Obscenity , Art and the Freedom of Expression

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         There is a very thin line between obscenity and the constitutional right to freedom of expression. one may ask what is the demarcation line? or more importantly, is there really a bench mark in order to categorize whether an expression via art, speech, writing, media and religion becomes obscene in order to be subjected to censorship by the government?  


sad to say, we only have american jurisprudence to guide us on whether an expression is considered obscene and eventually be subjected to censorship.  


a friend told me last night that his uploaded video in his youtube channel was deleted and banned by the moderators because he uploaded a nude video of her sister taking a bath fully nude. he told me it was a Vlog and it was categorized under the mature content of his channel.  he asked me if that itself is considered obscene? well, for me it is not....



in the celebrated case of Roth vs. U.S, the Supreme court of America ruled that a thing is obscene if , considered as a whole, its predominant appeal is to the prurient interest, like a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, and if it goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in description or representation of such matters.    

the words obscene, lewd, or lascivious signify that form of immorality which has relation to sexual impurity and has a tendency to excite lustful thoughts. it refers to such material which has a substantial tendency to deprive or corrupt its readers by inciting lascivious thoughts or arousing lustful desires..


in the philippines, there is this landmark case of Eliseo Soriano v. MTRCB.   here is a brief facts from this very interesting case involving obscenity and freedom of  speech and religion:


"an order suspending the program of Soriano was issued due to certain utterances he made in his television show, ANG DATING DAAN. he uttered the following : Lehitimong anak ng demonyo; sinungaling. GAGO ka talaga Michael, masahol kapa sa PUTANG BABAE o diba. Yung putang babae ang gumagana lang doon yung ibaba , (dito) kay Michael ang gumagana ang itaas, o diba! O , masahol pa sa putang babae yan. Sabi ng lola ko masahol pa sa putang babae yan! sobra ang kasinungalingan ng mga demonyong anghel na ito. xxx  

He contentended that the MTRCB denied him of his right to freedom of speech, expression and of religion, arguing that he was only exercising his constitutionally protected rights under Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution.   


As to the right to freedom of religion, the Supreme court of the philippines denied his contention ruling that:


there is nothing in Eli Soriano's statement pertaining to religious belief. the fact that he came out with his statements in a t.v bible exposition program does not automatically accord them the character of religous discourse. Plain and simple insults directed at another person cannot be elevated to the status of religous speech. he was only moved by anger and the need  to seek retribution, not by any religious conviction. His claim, assuming its veracity, that some Iglesia Ni Cristo minsteres distorted his statements does not convert the foul language used in retaliation as religious speech. 


With regard to the right to freedom of speech and of expression, the Supreme Court time and time again ruled that: 


it is settled that expressions by means of newspapers, radio, t.v and motion pictures come within the broad protection of the free speech and expression clause of the constitution. HOWEVER, the freedom of expression , as with the other freedoms encased in the Bill of Rights, is NOT ABSOLUTE. it may be regulated to some extent to serve important public interests, some forms of speech not being protected. the limits of the freedom of expression are reached when the expression touches upon matters of essentially private concern.

in the oft-quoted expression of justice Holmes, the constitutional guarantee "obviously was not intended to give immunity for every possible use of language."


 From Lucas vs. Royo comes this line: "the freedom to express one's sentiments and belief does not grant one the license to vilify in public the honor and integrity of another. any sentiments must be expressed within the proper forum and with proper regard for the rights of others. 




Going back to the issue of my friend, is a video of her sister fully nude while taking a shower considered obscene??? let me know your thoughts about it.  

Edited by Patrick
darktooth likes this

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Agreed with you on these points:


1. That a video taken of her sister in the nude was probably not obscene

2. That there is a thin line between obscenity and decency


That’s where the court of law has to decide when it matters. It is not very different to when a physician gives someone a diagnosis because he deviates from the “normal.” In both instances, the line where it is drawn is subjective.

Rockpen likes this

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People often bemoan na natatapakan 'yung kanilang karapatang mamahayag ng kanilang saloobin but you rarely hear people acknowledge na with that right, may kalakip na responsibility 'yan and there are always consequences.


There are always rules. If you go to a kindergarten class and shout na "ang se-sexy naman ng mga batang 'to!" strip nude, flop your dingdong around, and insist na it was a performance art, would you be surprised if you get arrested? Hindi man sa law, we do have society to chastise us if what we say or do is out of bounds from what is generally accepted. 


Is it obscene? Depends on the context. What point was he making taking a video of her sister nude in the shower and was there consent?


With YouTube, it's an automated system. Rarely there are actual people on YouTube's end involved in taking down videos. Maybe there were a lot of people that complained.

Rockpen likes this

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Another interesting discourse but this time pertaining to ART and obscenity in relation to offending the religious feelings :

Condom-wearing Jesus causes uproar in the Philippines


Jesus Christ, nailed on the cross, has a penis covered by a bright red condom.

On the same wall beside where the giant crucifix hangs there are different posters of Mother Mary and Jesus Christ mixed with images of Mickey Mouse, US President Barack Obama and the Statue of Liberty.

This is ‘Poleteismo’ (Polytheism), an art installation by 37-year-old visual and performance artist Mideo Cruz.

The installation is now the centre of intense uproar from conservative Catholics, some of whom threatened to kill Cruz.

Cruz, a laidback guy living a bohemian life, now fears for his life, saying that fanatics may put a bullet on his head, just as John Lennon’s killer did to the Beatles star.

The exhibit opened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), a government-owned institution for culture and the arts which was the project of former First Lady Imelda Marcos in the 1970s. Imelda, known for her lavish lifestyle, is the wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Now a Congressional representative in her home province in the northern Philippines, Imelda asked the CCP to shut down the exhibit, saying that art should only be beautiful.

A viewer, perhaps a conservative Catholic, has vandalized the artwork.

Eventually, CCP closed the exhibit, giving in to pressure and threats, a move widely criticized by local artists.

Yet religious groups, dressed in creaseless white robes, continue to condemn what for them is a blasphemous piece of art, forgetting that freedom of expression is fundamental and that it is this same freedom that allows them to practise their religion in public.

Indeed, the Catholic Church in the Philippines is missing the point.

Cruz’ artwork is merely a reflection of what this predominantly Catholic country has become; of how the practice of Christianity in the country has been reduced to worshipping religious icons, or a sort of polytheism.

‘This [installation] speaks about objects that we worship, how we create these gods and idols and how we in turn are created by our gods and idols,” Cruz said in an interview with Reuters.

In the same interview, Cruz explains that the giant crucifix with a penis that can be moved up and down symbolizes the patriarchal nature of Philippine society, where men continue to be worshipped, something that the country’s Spanish colonizers bequeathed.

Little do they realize, however, that Cruz’ work reflects the Philippines’ self-contradictions and ambiguities, excesses and deficiencies.

The truth hurts, of course.

Is this a work of art or a work of a demon? In my opinion, it is a work of art. In point of law, is this art? Is the artist's right to freedom of expression violated if his work of art is shutdown?

Tell you honestly, there are religious organization out there who doesn't believe in idols. Hence, we cannot say that these art offends the religious feelings.. It could have been offensive to the Catholic people but it may not be offensive to other religious organizations such as the jehova's witness or the Iglesia ni Cristo who doesn't worship idols. For them worshiping idols is a mortal sin. This is also true amongst members of ang dating daan. For them it is purely stupid to create an image of a god out of idols. Quoting Mr. Eli Soriano : "tanga ka nalang kung pupunasan mo ang imahen ni Maria pagkatapos hinawakan ng taong may sakit." I agree with him. I am a Catholic by choice but I have my own religious beliefs.

Edited by Patrick

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