Thanks to a quirk in Idaho Code, the state holds the power and authority to shutter some movie theaters that serve alcohol for showing the wrong type of flick.
The oddity rarely pervades public discussion, but The Flicks theater in Boise, a purveyor of indie (independent) and foreign films, says it won’t show “Blue is the Warmest Color” out of fear that the business could lose its liquor license.
The movie is an award winner, having notched the top prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Yet, the content is fairly controversial; the flick boasts an NC-17 rating (no one under 17 admitted) and a rather steamy 10-minute sex scene.
That’s where the trouble comes in.
Because The Flicks serves alcohol to moviegoers, it must live by certain rules. One of those rules, set forth in Idaho Code, limits what can be portrayed on the silver screen. Theaters with liquor licenses cannot show films depicting sexual acts, intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation or flagellation, among other things. The state also forbids theaters from screening films in which genitals or breasts are shown and/or caressed.
The Boise Weekly, which broke the story, described the rule as “one of the Gem State's most blatant forms of censorship.”
State officials told the paper that someone would have to file a complaint to spur an investigation, but The Flicks owners said they wouldn’t go near the film due to the risk.
After the story broke, social media erupted with taunts and cries of disdain. One commenter called Idaho’s liquor and obscenity laws “stupid.”
Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, offered a much stiffer condemnation of the obscenity rules.
“The problem with laws like these is we are dependent on the government to decide for us what is obscene and what is not,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “And then we are at the government's mercy when we misjudge the government's judgment.”
Hoffman, a free market advocate, contends that while many in the state Legislature claim to espouse limited government mindsets, they fail in some areas.
“I do wish lawmakers would see that they're merely embracing the same nanny government ideology they claim to dislike, but I doubt it will happen,” Hoffman wrote. “Lawmakers are against big government unless they're for it. They trust their constituents, except when they don't. “
The Idaho Legislature offers a poor record on matters of individual taste and the “nanny government” to which Hoffman referred. Earlier this year, for example, state lawmakers, always eager to fight the federal government on matters of spending, health care or states’ rights, approved a resolution asking the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on televised portrayals of premarital sex.
The measure, which carried no force of law, urged the federal agency to “resume enforcement of traditional American standards of decency.”
Shortly after the measure passed the Idaho House of Representatives, Hoffman lambasted the effort.
“Whenever the government assumes the role of morality police, it is legally charged with dictating what consumers see and hear, or don’t see and hear,” he wrote at the time. “That means a government bureaucrat, or a board of government bureaucrats, makes the decisions for us, instead of allowing people in the free market to make the choice.”
Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, told IdahoReporter.com Tuesday that he didn’t have a good solution for the obscenity rules. “It’s a dilemma,” he admitted.
Thayn, one of the more noted conservatives in the Idaho Capitol, said that while he supports an individual’s right to make choices, he also wants to promote a moral and civil society in the state.
“What kind of society are we wanting?” he asked, adding that the state should try to limit addictive behaviors—like pornography—that prevent individuals from fulfilling their highest potential.
By limiting destructive behaviors, Thayn contented, the Legislature protects those who make good choices from those who don’t and end up on government welfare programs.
Whatever the case, the senator says there’s little chance lawmakers will examine the code in the foreseeable future.
“I don’t think there’s much interest in this and it’s not something I can support,” he said.
Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com.