337 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401) 222-2353
Fax: (401) 222-3199
Open to the public
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
During the January Session of the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1956 the Commission To Encourage Morality In Youth was established by Resolution No. 73 H 1000, R.I.Acts and Resolves, 1102—1103. The resolution created a 'commission to encourage morality in youth,' to be composed of nine members appointed by the Governor of the State. The members were to serve for staggered, five-year terms. They were to receive no compensation, but their expenses, as well as the expenses incurred in the operation of the Commission generally, were to be defrayed out of annual appropriations. The original mandate of the Commission was superseded in part by Resolution No. 95 S. 444 R.I.Acts and Resolves, January Session 1959, 880, which reads as follows:
'It shall be the duty of said commission to educate the public concerning any book, picture, pamphlet, ballad, printed paper or other thing containing obscene, indecent or impure language, as defined in chapter 11—31 of the general laws, entitled 'Obscene and objectionable publications and shows,' and to investigate and recommend the prosecution of all violations of said sections, and it shall be the further duty of said commission to combat juvenile delinquency and encourage morality in youth by (a) investigating situations which may cause, be responsible for or give rise to undesirable behavior of juveniles, (b) educate the public as to these causes and (c) recommend legislation, prosecution and/or treatment which would ameliorate or eliminate said causes.'
The Commission's activities were not limited to the circulation of lists of objectionable publications. For example, the annual report of the Commission issued in January 1960, recites in part:
'In September, 1959, because of the many complaints from outraged parents at the type of films being shown at the Rhode Island Drive-Ins and also the lack of teen-age supervision while parked, this Commission initiated and completed a survey on the Drive-In Theatres in the State. High points of the survey note that there are II (2) Drive-in theatres in Rhode Island which operate through summer months and remain open until November and then for week-ends during the winter, providing car-heaters.
'Acting on its power to investigate causes of delinquency, the Commission has met with several state officials for a discussion of juvenile drinking, the myriad and complex causes of delinquency, and legal aspects of the Commission's operations. It also held a special meeting with Rhode Island police and legal officials in September, 1959, for a discussion on the extent of delinquency in Rhode Island and the possible formation of state-wide organization to combat it.'
The Commission's practice was to notify a distributor that certain books or magazines distributed by him had been reviewed by the Commission and had been declared by a majority of its members to be objectionable for sale, distribution or display to youths under 18 years of age. Such notices requested the distributor's "cooperation," and advised him that copies of the lists of "objectionable" publications were circulated to local police departments, and that it was the Commission's duty to recommend prosecution of purveyors of obscenity. Four out-of-state publishers of books widely distributed in the State sued in a Rhode Island court for injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that the law and the practices thereunder were unconstitutional (see Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan - 372 U.S. 58 (1963). The court found that the effect of the Commission's notices was to intimidate distributors and retailers and that they had resulted in the suppression of the sale of the books listed. The State Attorney General conceded that the notices listed several publications that were not obscene within the Court's definition of the term.