How Book Banning Works

Obscene Literature and the Miller Test

Even after the U.S. Congress adopted the First Amendment in 1791, the nicknamed Comstock Acts of 1873 barred obscene literature from interstate commerce. Today, the constitution does not protect obscene literature. Miller v. California established a three-point test for obscenity. To meet the standards, the text must:

  • Appeal to prurient interests when taken as a whole
  • Involve patently offensive sexual conducts
  • Contain no literary, artistic, political or scientific value

This heavy burden of proof for obscenity rests with the party desiring censorship to ensure that freedom of speech and the press are not silenced [source: Cornell University Law School]. The Miller test also helps prevent prior restraint, or preventing people from writing and printing because of the legal threat. It also reduces the chilling effect of censorship that constrains the expression and reception of information. Thanks to this legal interpretation, books such as "Lolita" and "Ulysses" that the United States initially banned from circulation were eventually released.


To read more about book banning, read the links on the next page.