F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation/Dissent Brennan
Mr. Justice BRENNAN, with whom Mr. Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.
I agree with Mr. Justice STEWART that, under Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 41 L.Ed.2d 590 (1974), and United States v. 12 200-ft. Reels of Film, 413 U.S. 123, 93 S.Ct. 2665, 37 L.Ed.2d 500 (1973), the word “indecent” in 18 U.S.C. § 1464 (1976 ed.) must be construed to prohibit only obscene speech. I would, therefore, normally refrain from expressing my views on any constitutional issues implicated in this case. However, I find the Court's misapplication of fundamental First Amendment principles so patent, and its attempt to impose its notions of propriety on the whole of the American people so misguided, that I am unable to remain silent.
For the second time in two years, see Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310 (1976), the Court refuses to embrace the notion, completely antithetical to basic First Amendment values, that the degree of protection the First *763 Amendment affords protected speech varies with the social value ascribed to that speech by five Members of this Court. See opinion of Mr. Justice POWELL, ante, at 3046-3047. Moreover, as do all parties, all Members of the Court agree that the Carlin monologue aired by Station WBAI does not fall within one of the categories of speech, such as “fighting words,” Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942), or obscenity, Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 77 S.Ct. 1304, 1 L.Ed.2d 1498 (1957), that is totally without First Amendment protection. This conclusion, of course, is compelled by our cases expressly holding that communications containing some of the words found condemnable here are fully protected by the First Amendment in other contexts. See Eaton v. Tulsa, 415 U.S. 697, 94 S.Ct. 1228, 39 L.Ed.2d 693 (1974); Papish v. University of Missouri Curators, 410 U.S. 667, 93 S.Ct. 1197, 35 L.Ed.2d 618 (1973); Brown v. Oklahoma, 408 U.S. 914, 92 S.Ct. 2507, 33 L.Ed.2d 326 (1972); Lewis v. New Orleans, 408 U.S. 913, 92 S.Ct. 2499, 33 L.Ed.2d 321 (1972); Rosenfeld v. New Jersey, 408 U.S. 901, 92 S.Ct. 2479, 33 L.Ed.2d 321 (1972); Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 91 S.Ct. 1780, 29 L.Ed.2d 284 (1971). Yet despite the Court's refusal to create a sliding scale of First Amendment protection calibrated to this Court's perception of the worth of a communication's content, and despite our unanimous agreement that the Carlin monologue is protected speech, a majority of the Court nevertheless finds that, on the facts of this case, the FCC is not constitutionally barred from imposing sanctions on Pacifica for its airing of the Carlin monologue. This majority apparently believes that the FCC's disapproval of Pacifica's afternoon broadcast of Carlin's “Dirty Words” recording is a permissible time, place, and manner regulation. Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U.S. 77, 69 S.Ct. 448, 93 L.Ed. 513 (1949). Both the opinion of my Brother STEVENS and the opinion of my Brother POWELL rely principally on two factors in reaching this conclusion: (1) the capacity of a radio broadcast to intrude into the unwilling listener's home, [p764] and (2) the presence of children in the listening audience. Dispassionate analysis, removed from individual notions as to what is proper and what is not, starkly reveals that these justifications, whether individually or together, simply do not support even the professedly moderate degree of governmental homogenization of radio communications-if, indeed, such homogenization can ever be moderate given the pre-eminent status of the right of free speech in our constitutional scheme-that the Court today permits.
Without question, the privacy interests of an individual in his home are substantial and deserving of significant protection. In finding these interests sufficient to justify the content regulation of protected speech, however, the Court commits two errors. First, it misconceives the nature of the privacy interests involved where an individual voluntarily chooses to admit radio communications into his home. Second, it ignores the constitutionally protected interests of both those who wish to transmit and those who desire to receive broadcasts that many-including the FCC and this Court-might find offensive.
“The ability of government, consonant with the Constitution, to shut off discourse solely to protect others from hearing it is · · · dependent upon a showing that substantial privacy interests are being invaded in an essentially intolerable manner. Any broader view of this authority would effectively empower a majority to silence dissidents simply as a matter of personal predilections.” Cohen v. California, supra, 403 U.S., at 21, 91 S.Ct., at 1786. I am in wholehearted agreement with my Brethren that an individual's right “to be let alone” when engaged in private activity within the confines of his own home is encompassed within the “substantial privacy interests” to which Mr. Justice Harlan referred in Cohen, and is entitled to the greatest solicitude. Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 89 S.Ct. 1243, 22 L.Ed.2d 542 (1969). However, I believe that an individual's actions in switching on [p765] and listening to communications transmitted over the public airways and directed to the public at large do not implicate fundamental privacy interests, even when engaged in within the home. Instead, because the radio is undeniably a public medium, these actions are more properly viewed as a decision to take part, if only as a listener, in an ongoing public discourse. See Note, Filthy Words, the FCC, and the First Amendment: Regulating Broadcast Obscenity, 61 Va.L.Rev. 579, 618 (1975). Although an individual's decision to allow public radio communications into his home undoubtedly does not abrogate all of his privacy interests, the residual privacy interests he retains vis-à-vis the communication he voluntarily admits into his home are surely no greater than those of the people present in the corridor of the Los Angeles courthouse in Cohen who bore witness to the words “Fuck the Draft” emblazoned across Cohen's jacket. Their privacy interests were held insufficient to justify punishing Cohen for his offensive communication.
Even if an individual who voluntarily opens his home to radio communications retains privacy interests of sufficient moment to justify a ban on protected speech if those interests are “invaded in an essentially intolerable manner,” Cohen v. California, supra, 403 U.S., at 21, 91 S.Ct., at 1786, the very fact that those interests are threatened only by a radio broadcast precludes any intolerable invasion of privacy; for unlike other intrusive modes of communication, such as sound trucks, “[t]he radio can be turned off,” Lehman v. Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298, 302, 94 S.Ct. 2714, 2717, 41 L.Ed.2d 770 (1974)-and with a minimum of effort. As Chief Judge Bazelon aptly observed below, “having elected to receive public air waives, the scanner who stumbles onto an offensive program is in the same position as the unsuspecting passers-by in Cohen and Erznoznik [ v. Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205, 95 S.Ct. 2268, 45 L.Ed.2d 125 (1975)]; he can avert his attention by changing channels or turning off the set.” 181 U.S.App.D.C. 132, 149, 556 F.2d 9, 26 (1977). Whatever the minimal discomfort suffered by a *766 listener who inadvertently tunes into a program he finds offensive during the brief interval before he can simply extend his arm and switch stations or flick the “off” button, it is surely worth the candle to preserve the broadcaster's right to send, and the right of those interested to receive, a message entitled to full First Amendment protection. To reach a contrary balance, as does the Court, is clearly to follow Mr. Justice STEVENS' reliance on animal metaphors, ante, at 3041, “to burn the house to roast the pig.” Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380, 383, 77 S.Ct. 524, 526, 1 L.Ed.2d 412 (1957).
The Court's balance, of necessity, fails to accord proper weight to the interests of listeners who wish to hear broadcasts the FCC deems offensive. It permits majoritarian tastes completely to preclude a protected message from entering the homes of a receptive, unoffended minority. No decision of this Court supports such a result. Where the individuals constituting the offended majority may freely choose to reject the material being offered, we have never found their privacy interests of such moment to warrant the suppression of speech on privacy grounds. Cf. Lehman v. Shaker Heights, supra. Rowan v. Post Office Dept., 397 U.S. 728, 90 S.Ct. 1484, 25 L.Ed.2d 736 (1970), relied on by the FCC and by the opinions of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS, confirms rather than belies this conclusion. In Rowan, the Court upheld a statute, 39 U.S.C. § 4009 (1964 ed., Supp. IV), permitting householders to require that mail advertisers stop sending them lewd or offensive materials and remove their names from mailing lists. Unlike the situation here, householders who wished to receive the sender's communications were not prevented from doing so. Equally important, the determination of offensiveness vel non under the statute involved in Rowan was completely within the hands of the individual householder; no governmental evaluation of the worth of the mail's content stood between the mailer and the householder. In contrast, the visage of the censor is all too discernible here.
Most parents will undoubtedly find understandable as well as commendable the Court's sympathy with the FCC's desire to prevent offensive broadcasts from reaching the ears of unsupervised children. Unfortunately, the facial appeal of this justification for radio censorship masks its constitutional insufficiency. Although the government unquestionably has a special interest in the well-being of children and consequently “can adopt more stringent controls on communicative materials available to **3050 youths than on those available to adults,” Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205, 212, 95 S.Ct. 2268, 2274, 45 L.Ed.2d 125 (1975); see Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 106-107, 93 S.Ct. 2628, 2659-2660, 37 L.Ed.2d 446 (1973) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting), the Court has accounted for this societal interest by adopting a “variable obscenity” standard that permits the prurient appeal of material available to children to be assessed in terms of the sexual interests of minors. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 88 S.Ct. 1274, 20 L.Ed.2d 195 (1968). It is true that the obscenity standard the Ginsberg Court adopted for such materials was based on the then-applicable obscenity standard of Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 77 S.Ct. 1304, 1 L.Ed.2d 1498 (1957), and Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413, 86 S.Ct. 975, 16 L.Ed.2d 1 (1966), and that “[w]e have not had occasion to decide what effect Miller [ v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S.Ct. 2607, 37 L.Ed.2d 419 (1973)] will have on the Ginsberg formulation.” Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, supra, 422 U.S., at 213 n. 10, 95 S.Ct., at 2275. Nevertheless, we have made it abundantly clear that “under any test of obscenity as to minors · · · to be obscene ‘such expression must be, in some significant way, erotic.’ ” 422 U.S., at 213 n. 10, 95 S.Ct., at 2275 n. 10, quoting Cohen v. California, 403 U.S., at 20, 91 S.Ct., at 1785.
Because the Carlin monologue is obviously not an erotic appeal to the prurient interests of children, the Court, for the first time, allows the government to prevent minors from gaining access to materials that are not obscene, and are therefore protected, as to them. It thus ignores our recent admonition*768 that “[s]peech that is neither obscene as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them.” 422 U.S., at 213-214, 95 S.Ct., at 2275. The Court's refusal to follow its own pronouncements is especially lamentable since it has the anomalous subsidiary effect, at least in the radio context at issue here, of making completely unavailable to adults material which may not constitutionally be kept even from children. This result violates in spades the principle of Butler v. Michigan, supra. Butler involved a challenge to a Michigan statute that forbade the publication, sale, or distribution of printed material “tending to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts, manifestly tending to the corruption of the morals of youth.” 352 U.S., at 381, 77 S.Ct., at 525. Although Roth v. United States, supra, had not yet been decided, it is at least arguable that the material the statute in Butler was designed to suppress could have been constitutionally denied to children. Nevertheless, this Court [p769] found the statute unconstitutional. Speaking for the Court, Mr. Justice Frankfurter reasoned:
“The incidence of this enactment is to reduce the adult population of Michigan to reading only what is fit for children. It thereby arbitrarily curtails one of those **3051 liberties of the individual, now enshrined in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that history has attested as the indispensable conditions for the maintenance and progress of a free society.” 352 U.S., at 383-384, 77 S.Ct., at 526.
Where, as here, the government may not prevent the exposure of minors to the suppressed material, the principle of Butler applies a fortiori. The opinion of my Brother POWELL acknowledges that there lurks in today's decision a potential for “ ‘reduc[ing] the adult population · · · to [hearing] only what is fit for children,’ ” ante, at 3046, but expresses faith that the FCC will vigilantly prevent this potential from ever becoming a reality. I am far less certain than my Brother POWELL that such faith in the Commission is warranted, see Illinois Citizens Committee for Broadcasting v. FCC, 169 U.S.App.D.C. 166, 187-190, 515 F.2d 397, 418-421 (1975) (statement of Bazelon, C. J., as to why he voted to grant rehearing en banc); and even if I shared it, I could not so easily shirk the responsibility assumed by each Member of this Court jealously to guard against encroachments on First Amendment freedoms.
In concluding that the presence of children in the listening audience provides an adequate basis for the FCC to impose sanctions for Pacifica's broadcast of the Carlin monologue, the opinions of my Brother POWELL, ante, at 3044-3045, and my Brother STEVENS, ante, at 3040-3041, both stress the time-honored right of a parent to raise his child as he sees fit-a right this Court has consistently been vigilant to protect. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070 (1925). Yet this principle supports a *770 result directly contrary to that reached by the Court. Yoder and Pierce hold that parents, not the government, have the right to make certain decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. As surprising as it may be to individual Members of this Court, some parents may actually find Mr. Carlin's unabashed attitude towards the seven “dirty words” healthy, and deem it desirable to expose their children to the manner in which Mr. Carlin defuses the taboo surrounding the words. Such parents may constitute a minority of the American public, but the absence of great numbers willing to exercise the right to raise their children in this fashion does not alter the right's nature or its existence. Only the Court's regrettable decision does that.
As demonstrated above, neither of the factors relied on by both the opinion of my Brother POWELL and the opinion of my Brother STEVENS-the intrusive nature of radio and the presence of children in the listening audience-can, when taken on its own terms, support the FCC's disapproval of the Carlin monologue. These two asserted justifications are further plagued by a common failing: the lack of principled limits on their use as a basis for FCC censorship. No such limits come readily to mind, and neither of the opinions constituting the Court serve to clarify the extent to which the FCC may assert the privacy and children-in-the-audience rationales as justification for expunging from the airways protected communications the Commission finds offensive. Taken to their logical extreme, these rationales would support the cleansing of public [p771] radio of any “four-letter words” whatsoever, regardless of their context. The rationales could justify the banning from radio of a myriad of literary works, novels, poems, and plays by the likes of Shakespeare, Joyce, Hemingway, Ben Jonson, Henry Fielding, Robert Burns, and Chaucer; they could support the suppression of a good deal of political speech, such as the Nixon tapes; and they could even provide the basis for imposing sanctions for the broadcast of certain portions of the Bible.
In order to dispel the specter of the possibility of so unpalatable a degree of censorship, and to defuse Pacifica's overbreadth challenge, the FCC insists that it desires only the authority to reprimand a broadcaster on facts analogous to those present in this case, which it describes as involving “broadcasting for nearly twelve minutes a record which repeated over and over words which depict sexual or excretory activities and organs in a manner patently offensive by its community's contemporary standards in the early afternoon when children were in the audience.” Brief for Petitioner 45. The opinions of both my Brother POWELL and my Brother STEVENS take the FCC at its word, and consequently do no more than permit the Commission to censor the afternoon broadcast of the “sort of verbal shock treatment,” opinion of Mr. Justice POWELL, ante, at 3044, involved here. To insure that the FCC's regulation of protected speech does not exceed these bounds, my Brother POWELL is content to rely upon the judgment of the *772 Commission while my Brother STEVENS deems it prudent to rely on this Court's ability accurately to assess the worth of various kinds of speech. For my own part, even accepting that this case is limited to its facts, I would place the responsibility and the right to weed worthless and offensive communications from the public airways where it belongs and where, until today, it resided: in a public free to choose those communications worthy of its attention from a marketplace unsullied by the censor's hand.
The absence of any hesitancy in the opinions of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS to approve the FCC's censorship of the Carlin monologue on the basis of two demonstrably inadequate grounds is a function of their perception that the decision will result in little, if any, curtailment of communicative exchanges protected by the First Amendment. Although the extent to *773 which the Court stands ready to countenance FCC censorship of protected speech is unclear from today's decision, I find the reasoning by which my Brethren conclude that the FCC censorship they approve will not significantly infringe on First Amendment values both disingenuous as to reality and wrong as a matter of law.
My Brother STEVENS, in reaching a result apologetically described as narrow, ante, at 30 3040, takes comfort in his observation that “[a] requirement that indecent language be avoided will have its primary effect on the form, rather than the content, of serious communication,” ante, at 3037 n. 18, and finds solace in his conviction that “[t]here are few, if any, thoughts that cannot be expressed by the use of less offensive language.” Ibid. The idea that the content of a message and its potential impact on any who might receive it can be divorced from the words that are the vehicle for its expression is transparently fallacious. A given word may have a unique capacity to capsule an idea, evoke an emotion, or conjure up an image. Indeed, for those of us who place an appropriately high value on our cherished First Amendment rights, the word “censor” is such a word. Mr. Justice Harlan, speaking for the Court, recognized the truism that a speaker's choice of words cannot surgically be separated from the ideas he desires to express when he warned that “we cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process.” Cohen v. California, 403 U.S., at 26, 91 S.Ct., at 1788. Moreover, even if an alternative phrasing may communicate a speaker's abstract ideas as effectively as those words he is forbidden to use, it is doubtful that the sterilized message will convey the emotion that is an essential part of so many communications. This, too, was apparent to Mr. Justice Harlan and the Court in Cohen.
“[W]e cannot overlook the fact, because it is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much linguistic expression serves a dual communicative function: it conveys*774 not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well. In fact, words are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated.” Id., at 25-26, 91 S.Ct., at 1788.
My Brother STEVENS also finds relevant to his First Amendment analysis the fact that “[a]dults who feel the need may purchase tapes and records or go to theaters and nightclubs to hear [the tabooed] words.” Ante, at 3041 n. 28. My Brother POWELL agrees: “The Commission's holding does not prevent willing adults from purchasing Carlin's record, from attending his performances, or, indeed, from reading the transcript reprinted as an appendix to the Court's opinion.” Ante, at 3046. The opinions of my Brethren display both a sad insensitivity to the fact that these alternatives involve the expenditure of money, time, and effort that many of those wishing to hear Mr. Carlin's message may not be able to afford, and a naive innocence of the reality that in many cases the medium may well be the message.
The Court apparently believes that the FCC's actions here can be analogized to the zoning ordinances upheld in Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310 (1976). For two reasons, it is wrong. First, the zoning ordinances found to pass constitutional muster in Young had valid goals other than the channeling of protected speech. Id., 427 U.S., at 71 n. 34, 96 S.Ct., at 2453 (opinion of STEVENS, J.); id., at 80, 96 S.Ct., at 2457 (POWELL, J., concurring). No such goals are present here. Second, and crucial to the opinions of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS in Young -opinions, which, as they do in this case, supply the bare five-person majority of the Court-the ordinances did not restrict the access of distributors or exhibitors to the market or impair [p775] the viewing public's access to the regulated material. Id., at 62, 71 n. 35, 96 S.Ct., at 2453 (opinion of STEVENS, J.); id., at 77, 96 S.Ct., at 2455 (POWELL, J., concurring). Again, this is not the situation here. Both those desiring to receive Carlin's message over the radio and those wishing to send it to them are prevented from doing so by the Commission's actions. Although, as my Brethren point out, Carlin's message may be disseminated or received by other means, this is of little consolation to those broadcasters and listeners who, for a host of reasons, not least among them financial, do not have access to, or cannot take advantage of, these other means.
Moreover, it is doubtful that even those frustrated listeners in a position to follow my Brother POWELL's gratuitous advice and attend one of Carlin's performances or purchase one of his records would receive precisely the same message Pacifica's radio station sent its audience. The airways are capable not only of carrying a message, but also of transforming it. A satirist's monologue may be most potent when delivered to a live audience; yet the choice whether this will in fact be the manner in which the message is delivered and received is one the First Amendment prohibits the government from making.
It is quite evident that I find the Court's attempt to unstitch the warp and woof of First Amendment law in an effort to reshape its fabric to cover the patently wrong result the Court reaches in this case dangerous as well as lamentable. Yet there runs throughout the opinions of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS another vein I find equally disturbing: a depressing inability to appreciate that in our land of cultural pluralism, there are many who think, act, and talk differently from the Members of this Court, and who do not share their fragile sensibilities. It is only an acute ethnocentric myopia that enables the Court to approve the censorship of communications solely because of the words they contain.
“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.” Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418, 425, 38 S.Ct. 158, 159, 62 L.Ed. 372 (1918) (Holmes, J.). The words that the Court and the Commission find so unpalatable may be the stuff of everyday conversations in some, if not many, of the innumerable subcultures that compose this Nation. Academic research indicates that this is indeed the case. See B. Jackson, “Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me” (1974); J. Dillard, Black English (1972); W. Labov, Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular (1972). As one researcher concluded “[w]ords generally considered obscene like ‘bullshit’ and ‘fuck’ are considered neither obscene nor derogatory in the [black] vernacular except in particular contextual situations and when used with certain intonations.” C. Bins, “Toward an Ethnography of Contemporary African American Oral Poetry,” Language and Linguistics Working Papers No. 5, p. 82 (Georgetown Univ. Press 1972). Cf. Keefe v. Geanakos, 418 F.2d 359, 361 (CA1 1969) (finding the use of the word “motherfucker” commonplace among young radicals and protesters).
Today's decision will thus have its greatest impact on broadcasters desiring to reach, and listening audiences composed of, persons who do not share the Court's view as to which words or expressions are acceptable and who, for a variety of reasons, including a conscious desire to flout majoritarian conventions, express themselves using words that may be regarded as offensive by those from different socio-economic backgrounds. [p777] In this context, the Court's decision may be seen for what, in the broader perspective, it really is: another of the dominant culture's inevitable efforts to force those groups who do not share its mores to conform to its way of thinking, acting, and speaking. See Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 506-511, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 1939-1942, 52 L.Ed.2d 531 (1977) (BRENNAN, J., concurring).
Pacifica, in response to an FCC inquiry about its broadcast of Carlin's satire on “ ‘the words you couldn't say on the public · · · airwaves,’ ” explained that “Carlin is not mouthing obscenities, he is merely using words to satirize as harmless and essentially silly our attitudes towards those words.” 56 F.C.C.2d, at 95, 96. In confirming Carlin's prescience as a social commentator by the result it reaches today, the Court evinces an attitude toward the “seven dirty words” that many others besides Mr. Carlin and Pacifica might describe as “silly.” Whether today's decision will similarly prove “harmless” remains to be seen. One can only hope that it will.
- Where I refer without differentiation to the actions of “the Court,” my reference is to this majority, which consists of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS and those Members of the Court joining their separate opinions.
- Even if the monologue appealed to the prurient interest of minors, it would not be obscene as to them unless, as to them, “the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 24, 93 S.Ct. 2607, 2615, 37 L.Ed.2d 419 (1973).
- It may be that a narrowly drawn regulation prohibiting the use of offensive language on broadcasts directed specifically at younger children constitutes one of the “other legitimate proscription[s]” alluded to in Erznoznik. This is so both because of the difficulties inherent in adapting the Miller formulation to communications received by young children, and because such children are “not possessed of that full capacity for individual choice which is the presupposition of the First Amendment guarantees.” Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 649-650, 88 S.Ct. 1274, 1286, 20 L.Ed.2d 195 (1968) (STEWART, J., concurring). I doubt, as my Brother STEVENS suggests, ante, at 3038 n. 20, that such a limited regulation amounts to a regulation of speech based on its content, since, by hypothesis, the only persons at whom the regulated communication is directed are incapable of evaluating its content. To the extent that such a regulation is viewed as a regulation based on content, it marks the outermost limits to which content regulation is permissible.
- The opinions of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS rightly refrain from relying on the notion of “spectrum scarcity” to support their result. As Chief Judge Bazelon noted below, “although scarcity has justified increasing the diversity of speakers and speech, it has never been held to justify censorship.” 181 U.S.App.D.C., at 152, 556 F.2d, at 29 (emphasis in original). See Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367, 396, 89 S.Ct. 1794, 1809, 23 L.Ed.2d 371 (1969).
- See, e. g., I Samuel 25:22: “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall”; II Kings 18:27 and Isaiah 36:12: “[H]ath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?”; Ezekiel 23:3: “And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth; there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.”; Ezekiel 23:21: “Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdnes of thy youth, in bruising thy teats by the Egyptians for the paps of thy youth.” The Holy Bible (King James Version) (Oxford 1897).
- Although ultimately dependent upon the outcome of review in this Court, the approach taken by my Brother STEVENS would not appear to tolerate the FCC's suppression of any speech, such as political speech, falling within the core area of First Amendment concern. The same, however, cannot be said of the approach taken by my Brother POWELL, which, on its face, permits the Commission to censor even political speech if it is sufficiently offensive to community standards. A result more contrary to rudimentary First Amendment principles is difficult to imagine.
- Having insisted that it seeks to impose sanctions on radio communications only in the limited circumstances present here, I believe that the FCC is estopped from using either this decision or its own orders in this case, 56 F.C.C.2d 94 (1975) and 59 F.C.C.2d 892 (1976), as a basis for imposing sanctions on any public radio broadcast other than one aired during the daytime or early evening and containing the relentless repetition, for longer than a brief interval, of “language that describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities and organs.” 56 F.C.C.2d, at 98. For surely broadcasters are not now on notice that the Commission desires to regulate any offensive broadcast other than the type of “verbal shock treatment” condemned here, or even this “shock treatment” type of offensive broadcast during the late evening.
- Under the approach taken by my Brother POWELL, the availability of broadcasts about groups whose members constitute such audiences might also be affected. Both news broadcasts about activities involving these groups and public affairs broadcasts about their concerns are apt to contain interviews, statements, or remarks by group leaders and members which may contain offensive language to an extent my Brother POWELL finds unacceptable.