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Those who want to outlaw publications over sexually explicit ads should study Constitution first


Ten years or so ago, a woman named Andrea Lavigne sat in on some media survey classes I was teaching at Wayne State University.

She was in her late 30s or early 40s, and seemed to be searching for answers. She wanted to know how the media work, and told me she was a Maoist.* This fascinated me, because I thought authentic Maoists were almost as rare as passenger pigeons. 

Chairman Mao, we now know, starved to death and slaughtered tens of millions of his own citizens, and kept China economically and intellectually backward. Intrigued, I got together one night before class with her and another Maoist, to find out what they were all about. Alas, they spouted a form of primitive, grade-school Marxism.

They seemed to have very little historical knowledge of Communism or what it had actually been like.

Three years ago, I got a friendly email from Ms. Lavigne telling me she had now founded a marijuana film club.

Well, Andrea Lavigne has a new cause now: She wants to get the city of Grosse Pointe Park to outlaw the weekly newspaper, The Metro Times, because it has sexually oriented ads. 

Tonight, she plans to appear before the city council in her affluent little town to ask them to ban the paper entirely and “require its removal from city sidewalks and local businesses.”

The government could ban anything in Maoist China. But you can't do that in America, which is what makes this a great country.

Well, I guess Ms. Lavigne wasn’t in my class the night I talked about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that means that the freedom of the press is one of our most fundamental rights. I should confess that, in a way, I am a party at interest.

I have written a weekly column for The Metro Times for more than 21 years. What I write is about as sexually oriented as any explanation of the political apportionment process can be.

In fact, the newspaper does some of the most serious political and investigative political journalism in the state. Yes, it does have sexually oriented advertising in the back pages. But what Ms. Lavigne may not realize is that there is far less of it than 10 years ago.

Most such ads have migrated online. 

She also may not realize that The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News also carry classified ads for sexual services; the print is just not as large. Currently, The Metro Times has a female editor, Valerie Vande Panne, a feminist who suggested that if Lavigne has evidence of any illegal activity, she should take it to the police. 

However, Andrea Lavigne said the police aren’t very interested, and so she wants to ban the paper instead. Well, guess what?

The government could ban anything in Maoist China. But you can’t do that in America, which is what makes this a great country.

Cities can’t outlaw publications that have questionable sexual content, or those advocating marijuana, which Ms. Lavigne thinks should be completely legal, but still isn’t.

They can’t even outlaw publications promoting tobacco, which kills hundreds of thousands of us every year. Let’s hope Grosse Pointe Park’s elected officials remember the Constitution tonight.

If they don’t, they are certain to be embarrassed by the courts.

*Ms. Lavigne, who was also a witness to the conversation, remembers the conversation differently and asserts that she never was and is not a Maoist.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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