- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Today, there is a showdown over pornography in Prince William County. Over recent years, community activists have battled to limit zoning opportunities for stores that sell or rent pornography and other erotic merchandise. Over the summer, the county’s board of supervisors approved new rules making it harder for such businesses to operate. A federal judge suspended the new regulations last month, so the supervisors are back at the drawing board. Today, they meet to decide whether or not their anti-pornography regulations should be weakened. A fundamental responsibility of county supervisors is to protect community standards, and they should not yield.

There is nothing wrong or unconstitutional about the current Prince William County ordinances regarding so-called adult businesses. The county requires a $400 operating permit that must be renewed every year, mandates that hours of operation end no later than midnight, sets guidelines for storefront appearances and advertisements and forbids pornography shops from being within 500 feet of churches and schools. There are also limits on how many pornography licenses the county will allow and a clause that permits the county to immediately suspend or revoke pornography purveyors’ licenses if they are convicted of various crimes.

Opposition to Prince William County’s decency laws is predictable. Owners of these shops don’t want their businesses to be restricted at all. One such establishment, the Manassas Video Club, has hired Hustler publisher Larry Flynt’s attorney to take on his case. The American Civil Liberties Union has protested county laws on free-speech grounds. Paul Cambria, the attorney for the Manassas Video Club and Mr. Flynt, said of the county supervisors: “Their motive isn’t to regulate anything. It is to harass out of existence or make it unprofitable for someone to operate a business.” A series of lawsuits are being used to bully county supervisors into backing down, and there is a movement to cave to pressure and relax local regulations.

This is a fight over local control and local standards. None of Prince William County’s regulations are unique. Counties across the country set land-use restrictions that cover everything from fast-food restaurants to the size and color of real-estate signs. Operating in accordance with zoning rules and other regulations is part of doing business anywhere. This reflects the right of residents to decide what kind of community in which they live and raise their children. Democracy itself is based on these decisions being made by the people and their representatives — not judges. In Prince William County, the codes and ordinances restricting pornography shops defend community standards. When they meet today, county supervisors should vote to continue to defend those standards.


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