Interpreting the First Amendment

When, decades hence, we look back at the first few years of the 21st century to consider who the true defenders of American freedoms were, foremost among this distinguished list of heroes will be that stalwart, fearless guardian of our First Amendment rights, Charlie Ciancanelli, of Roseburg, Ore.


In 1998, the city of Nyssa, Ore., passed a municipal ordinance banning live sex performers from being closer than four feet from their paying customers. This came after fears that the cream of young Idahoan manhood (pardon the pun) was being sullied and perverted by jaunts across the border to visit the wildly popular, and much more permissive, sex clubs in Oregon. This seemed to many a violation of Oregon’s famously inclusive free-speech statute, written in 1859, which states, “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatever.”


This ironclad iteration of free speech rights is one of the country’s strongest and most liberal. It’s a deserved point of pride for a state that is so politically polarized.


Regarding the Nyssa case, the Oregon Appeals Court affirmed a ban on live sex shows and upheld the city ordinance. One victim of this new law was heroic freedom fighter Ciancanelli, then owner of a sex club called Angels in Roseburg. The club is now defunct, I’m sorry to say, but a quick trip out to 82nd Avenue will assuage any pains attending Ciancanelli’s loss.


Showing the professionalism and dedication that are hallmarks of Oregon policing, Roseburg cops designed a courageous scheme. They would go to Ciancanelli’s club and pay some of the female performance artists to engage in sexual activities while they watched from a performance room.


After collecting substantial evidence, and presumably toweling off, the officers left, and Ciancanelli was slapped with a conviction for promoting live sex shows. Authorities clipped Angels’ wings, and the good Christians of Douglas County could breathe a little easier knowing that any orgasms happening in their eminently decent municipalities were fully within the constraints of the law.


However, on Sept. 29, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed significant portions of the Appeals Court ruling, saying that such live sex shows did indeed fall under the aegis of free speech. Glory be! All over the state, lube was warmed up, towels were laundered, and fresh containers of window cleanser were propped against one-way glass windows. Sales of vibrators and Ben Wa balls shot through the roof at emporia in the vicinity of these clubs, and performance artists attended their yoga classes with their game-faces on.


Opponents of the court’s ruling pointed out that the drafters of the Constitution surely did not see public sex acts as “free speech,” and I think we can all agree with that, but this is meaningless. The idea of hearkening back to the Founding Fathers’ “intentions” to determine current standards is intellectually vapid.


The Founding Fathers believed that neither women nor non-whites should vote, considering the latter to be savages and less than human. In the case of blacks, they were magnanimously tossed a bone and called three-fifths of a human in the Constitution. Blacks were legally excluded from Oregon until 1926 and could not vote here until 1927.


Basing modern moral values and needs on the ideals of rich white landowners from the 18th century is a slippery slope indeed. There is a vast array of situations, technologies, and art forms that did not exist then. Therefore, attempts to interpret the inner feelings of these men is a purposeless enterprise inevitably destined to reflect not the views of those who wrote our Constitution, but those who want to do the interpreting.


So go strike a blow for freedom! Head out to the famous Mr. Peeps, grab a tube o’ lube, and stroke one for Thomas Jefferson.


But be sure to clean up after yourself and leave Candi a nice tip.