The Burger Court (1969–86)

First Amendment

What famous comedian’s case formed the basis for an important U.S. Supreme Court case on indecency?

Comic George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue, in which he elaborates on the seven dirty words that are not to be used on television, led to an important U.S. Supreme Court decision on indecency. Carlin had delivered his 12-minute “Filthy Words” routine to an audience in California. Pacifica Foundation, which owned a radio station in New York, later played Carlin’s routine during afternoon hours. A father heard the afternoon broadcast with his young son in their car. The father filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC fined Pacifica Foundation, saying the company had violated FCC standards against the broadcast of indecent communications. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation that in order to protect children, the FCC can prohibit indecent material in the broadcast medium.


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