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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Federal Communications Commission
Pacifica Foundation
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for respondent Pacifica Foundation)
(Argued the cause for the United States, a respondent under this Court's Rule 21 (4))
Location: WBAI Station
Facts of the Case 

During a mid-afternoon weekly broadcast, a New York radio station aired George Carlin's monologue, "Filthy Words." Carlin spoke of the words that could not be said on the public airwaves. His list included shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. The station warned listeners that the monologue included "sensitive language which might be regarded as offensive to some." The FCC received a complaint from a man who stated that he had heard the broadcast while driving with his young son.


Does the First Amendment deny government any power to restrict the public broadcast of indecent language under any circumstances?

Decision: 5 votes for FCC, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

No. The Court held that limited civil sanctions could constitutionally be invoked against a radio broadcast of patently offensive words dealing with sex and execration. The words need not be obscene to warrant sanctions. Audience, medium, time of day, and method of transmission are relevant factors in determining whether to invoke sanctions. "[W]hen the Commission finds that a pig has entered the parlor, the exercise of its regulatory power does not depend on proof that the pig is obscene."

Cite this Page
FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 31 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1977/1977_77_528>.
FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1977/1977_77_528 (last visited August 31, 2015).
"FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 31, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1977/1977_77_528.