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Forum: One Hundred Years of Policing Morality (Nancy Unger)

In her new book project, Santa Clara University Professor of History Nancy C. Unger asks: Can American morals be legally regulated? Should they be?

In 1910, the Congress of the United States passed the Mann Act—a law hailed by many reformers for its bold attempt to legislate morality. The law prohibited the interstate transport of females for immoral purposes.

In 1913, the sons of two prominent Sacramento families abandoned their wives and children to run off to Reno with two single women. On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed that consensual extramarital affairs that involved crossing state lines were “immoral sex.”

Amended in 1978 and 1986, the Mann Act remains in effect and has been used against “uppity” African American men from champion boxer Jack Johnson to rock and roll legend Chuck Berry.

Come join in an illustrated discussion of the landmark 1913 case, upheld by the Supreme Court, that put the federal government in the business of legislating morality.

After the Forum, please join us for a buffet lunch at 12:15pm.  The lunch is complimentary for first-time visitors and students.


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  • Helen A.

    This one is really interesting to me; I recall my mother saying "You can't legislate morality", a similar theory--with which I agree--so I want to hear what Nancy has to say on this. (My mother would've considered herself a Humanist, probably.)

    August 13, 2013

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