F-Bombed

Colorado is ground zero in the war of the word.

And no conviction did -- but not, alas, because Vanatta was able to make his compelling argument in open court. Instead, he reached a plea deal for his client. But his inspirational motion lives on -- at www.thesmokinggun.com, the Web site that gave it the prestigious Legal Document of the Year Award when 2003 was barely half over, and also in Recht's pleadings in the Castle Rock case, for which he cribbed unashamedly from Vanatta's legal work.

Sadly, Recht never got to make his case in court, either. "We fought it pretty hard," he remembers. "We had to file a whole series of motions that took a lot of time, explaining why it should be dismissed. The first two times, the judge denied the motions. On the eve of trial, the city attorney dismissed the charges."

And next week, the Castle Rock Town Council will consider amending the town's ordinances to remove the section under which Lewis was charged. "The problem is making it a crime to use offensive language," Recht points out. "That's a clear violation of the First Amendment. This is protected political speech."

The proposal calls for eliminating entirely the wording that refers to "tumultuous or offensive language." "It goes to council for a first reading on January 27," confirms Deanne Durfee, deputy town attorney. "We'll still have a noise ordinance that restricts decibel levels and noises that disturb people -- but not content."

But even as Castle Rock recognizes the constitutionality of free speech, the Colorado Legislature debates the inane HB1078, which could toss owners of bookstores or theater companies in jail if they "allow a minor to review or peruse any material that is harmful" or "exhibit a performance that is harmful to minors" if "a reasonable adult person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."

Leave it to Representative Ted Harvey, the bill's sponsor, to determine what the fuck constitutes a "reasonable" adult these days. Or a reasonable bill, for that matter -- one that wouldn't throw Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis in the slammer for displaying copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

"Selling obscenity to minors is already a crime," points out Recht, who testified before the legislature last week. "We have those laws on the book. The Tattered Cover, Kitty's -- nobody can sell obscenity to minors. Adult bookstores don't care about this law; they don't let minors in. It's aimed at mainstream bookstores. It's wrong, and it shouldn't happen."

"The implications are incredibly fascist," says Brian Freeland of the Lida Project, whose current theatrical production just happens to be named Fucking A. "Shop owners are afraid to put up a poster, afraid that the law will come down on them and cite them and fine them. What's next? Are we going to be afraid to print anything?"

Or afraid to stage a play -- even if it is by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Park -- with "fuck" in its title?

"You've got to be kidding me if you're going to start prosecuting people for using the F-word. You're going to have to build lots and lots of jails," says Vanatta, a minor celebrity since his motion went global.

"What people don't realize," he adds, "and what is so scary about cases like this is it might seem minor on the surface -- no one is going to endorse a kid saying this to the cops or his principal -- but where's the next step? It's an incredibly slippery slope. And if you start outlawing it on any level, you've got a government saying what you can and can't say and you can and can't think. And that's just not what the country's built upon."

Fuckin' A.

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