World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hicklin test

Article Id: WHEBN0002307848
Reproduction Date:

Title: Hicklin test  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Obscene Publications Act 1959, Miller v. California, Legal tests, Wharfinger, Comstock laws
Collection: Legal Tests, Obscenity Law
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hicklin test

The Hicklin test is a legal test for obscenity established by the English case Regina v. Hicklin (1868). At issue was the statutory interpretation of the word "obscene" in the Obscene Publications Act 1857, which authorized the destruction of obscene books.[1] The court held that all material tending "to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences" was obscene, regardless of its artistic or literary merit.[2]


  • History 1
  • The Hicklin test in the United States 2
  • Further reading 3
  • References 4


The modern English law of obscenity began with the Obscene Publications Act 1857, also known as Lord Campbell’s Act.[3] Lord Campbell, the Chief Justice of Queen's Bench, introduced the bill, which provided for the seizure and summary disposition of obscene and pornographic materials. The Act also granted authority to issue search warrants for premises suspected of housing such materials.[4]

Regina v. Hicklin involved one Henry Scott, who resold copies of an anti-Catholic pamphlet entitled "The Confessional Unmasked: shewing the depravity of the Romish priesthood, the iniquity of the Confessional, and the questions put to females in confession." When the pamphlets were ordered destroyed as obscene, Scott appealed the order to the court of Quarter Sessions. Benjamin Hicklin, the official in charge of such orders as Recorder, revoked the order of destruction. Hicklin held that Scott's purpose had not been to corrupt public morals but to expose problems within the Catholic Church; hence, Scott's intention was innocent.[4] The authorities appealed Hicklin's reversal, bringing the case to the consideration of the Court of Queen's Bench.

Chief Justice Cockburn, on April 29, 1868, reinstated the order of the lower court, holding that Scott's intention was immaterial if the publication was obscene in fact. Justice Cockburn reasoned that the Obscene Publications Act allowed banning of a publication if it had a "tendency ... to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall."[5] Hicklin therefore allowed portions of a suspect work to be judged independently of context. If any portion of a work was deemed obscene, the entire work could be outlawed.

The Hicklin test in the United States

Adoption of obscenity laws in the United States was largely due to the efforts of Anthony Comstock. Comstock's intense lobbying led to the passage in 1873 of an anti-obscenity statute known as the Comstock Act. Comstock was appointed postal inspector to enforce the new law.[6] Twenty-four states passed similar prohibitions on materials distributed within the states.[7] The law criminalized not only sexually explicit material, but also material dealing with birth control and abortion.[8] Although lower courts in the U.S. had used the Hicklin standard sporadically since 1868, it was not until 1879, when prominent federal judge Samuel Blatchford upheld the obscenity conviction of D. M. Bennett using Hicklin, that the constitutionality of the Comstock Law became firmly established.[9] In 1896, the Supreme Court in Rosen v. United States, 161 U.S. 29 (1896), adopted the Hicklin test as the appropriate test of obscenity.[10]

However, in 1957, the Supreme Court ruled in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957) that the Hicklin test was inappropriate.[11] In Roth, Justice Brennan, writing for the majority, noted that some American courts had adopted the Hicklin standard, but that later decisions more commonly relied upon the question of "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest."[12] This Roth test became essentially the new definition of obscenity in the United States.[13]

Further reading

  • "Obscene Publications Act (British law) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  • "Pornography On Trial". Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  • "Obscene Censorship - A History of Erotica Censorship". Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  • "The Free Expression Policy Project". Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  • "Obscenity and media law". 1968-06-14. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 


  1. ^ Robert H. E. Bremmer (1 January 1971). Children and youth in America: a documentary history. 1866 - 1932. Harvard University Press. p. 231.  
  2. ^ Craig R. Ducat (29 February 2008). Constitutional Interpretation: Rights of the individual. Cengage Learning. p. 540.  
  3. ^ Miriam A. Drake (2003). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science: Abs-Dec. CRC Press. p. 470.  
  4. ^ a b Wayne C. Bartee; Alice Fleetwood Bartee (1992). Litigating morality: American legal thought and its English roots. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 64–65.  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Michael J. Rosenfeld (2007). The age of independence: interracial unions, same-sex unions, and the changing American family. Harvard University Press. p. 28.  
  7. ^ Kevles, Daniel J. (July 22, 2001). "The Secret History of Birth Control". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  8. ^ Joan Axelrod-Contrada (September 2006). Reno v. ACLU: Internet censorship. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 20–21.  
  9. ^ Janice Ruth Wood (2008). The struggle for free speech in the United States, 1872-1915: Edward Bliss Foote, Edward Bond Foote, and anti-Comstock operations. Psychology Press. pp. 43–45.  
  10. ^ Rosen, at 43
  11. ^ Robert L. Hilliard; Michael C. Keith (2007). Dirty discourse: sex and indecency in broadcasting. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 5.  
  12. ^ "Roth v United States, 354 U. S. 476 : Volume 354 : 1957 : Full Text : US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez". Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  13. ^ Robert D. Richards (1 September 1994). Uninhibited, robust, and wide open: Mr. Justice Brennan's legacy to the First Amendment. Parkway Publishers, Inc. pp. 49–51.  
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.