In Red Bank, what’s obscene won’t be seen

Council restricts obscene displays; Menna lone dissenter


Staff Writer

It’s officially time to cover up, and not just for the cold weather.At a special meeting last Thursday, the Red Bank Borough Council approved an ordinance that controls the display of obscene material, by a 5-1 vote.

Only Councilman Pasquale Menna voted against the ordinance.

“I did not go to law school to kill the First Amendment,” said Menna, in casting the lone dissenting vote.

Although there was an outcry against the ordinance from members of the arts community in the borough, when it was first introduced there were no comments from the audience at the special council meeting Dec. 23.

The ordinance was first introduced at a Dec. 9 meeting of the Borough Council, which was also not held on its regular night.

The ordinance requires that obscene material be displayed at a height of at least 5 feet or be covered with a blinder.

It defines obscene material as “any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity containing in, or consisting of, a picture or other representation, publication, sound recording, live performance or film, which by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details, emits sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest in the area or activity.”

The ordinance also defines which “specified anatomical areas” and “specified sexual activity” are now unlawful in the borough.

The ordinance was first proposed by Red Bank Police Chief Mark Fitzgerald, who had received complaints about a window display at an undisclosed west side market. Reportedly, magazines with explicit material were displayed in the windows of the market in plain sight of people walking by.

According to Fitzgerald, the penalty for a first offense of this ordinance is in-line with any violations of borough ordinances, which is a fine of $250.

In voting against the ordinance, Menna said that obscenity is all around us, and that just turning on network television will bring up lurid material.

“We have no control over the media,” responded Councilman Arthur Murphy. “What we can exercise control over is what people display in store windows in this town.”

Menna said he believed the ordinance could have been done in a different way, with different language.

“We’ve been a model for other towns in the area,” he said. “Other towns look to us to lead the way, and this ordinance makes us a laughing stock if we’re supposed to be a hip town. We’re really going overboard.”

Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. reminded the councilman that the ordinance was based on the state statute.

“It’s fair to the people,” said McKenna, “and it’s fair to the children of this town. I agree that we are a model community, but there’s nothing wrong with leading in the right direction.”

“If we were lucky enough to have Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in this town,” Menna said, “we would have to put underwear on him.”

Councilman John Curley said that the borough is not looking to restrict the sale of pornography or pornographic materials, but he believes the council must protect the children of the borough.

“We have a responsibility,” said Curley, “in a Christian- Judeo society to protect our children. I don’t see this as being an infringement on people’s rights.”

Murphy said that he believed the ordinance might not be enough to bring the town to where he wants it to be.

“I don’t think keeping the material in a restricted area is good enough,” said Murphy. “Personally, I don’t want it in town at all, and I will take responsibility for that.”

Councilman Robert J. Bifani was absent for the meeting, but called in his vote in favor of the ordinance via cell phone.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickles held a cell phone with an open line so that Bifani could listen to the arguments and participate in the voting.

After the meeting, a disgruntled Menna continued to say that the ordinance was “stupid” and he hoped a gallery owner would hang something in a window in protest.

“Someone needs to come out and argue against it,” he said.