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the rock musical HAir has come a long way since its onstage nudity and boisterous debunking of conventional mores made it a succes de scandale in New york in 1967. After touring in more than 140 cities, in fact, the age of Aquarius seems about 42. But Hair can still stir passions - and a lingering legal battle over its right to play in Chattanooga, Tenn., last week became the occasion for a Supreme Court decision to extend legal safeguards protecting newspapers, magazines, books and movies from censorship to stage entertainment as well.
The court ruled that Chattanooga's theater board had exercised
"unlawful prior restraint" when it denies Hair the use of its civic auditorium
back in 1972 - even though it may have been obscene by local standards.
"A free society," wrote Justice Harry Blackmun for the 5-to-4 majority,
"prefers to punish the few who abuse rights of speech after they break
the law than to throttle them and all others beforehand." Still,
the ruling did support prior restraint under "appropriate procedural safeguards"
and that prompted Justice William O. Douglas to a blistering separate dissent
- arguing that censorship is never justified, whether before or after the
fact, bu the courts or by the people.
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