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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department and a Christian group are at odds over whether adult material sold on department property should instead be banned.

The Military Honor and Decency Act prohibits sexually explicit material from being sold in military exchanges and elsewhere on Defense Department property, said department spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk. But a department review board is tasked with determining what material is considered explicit and what is permitted.

Since 1998, the review board has reviewed 473 titles and deemed 319, or about 67 percent, to be sexually explicit, Melnyk said. The board had previously banned Penthouse and Playgirl as explicit material, but reversed those decisions in May 2006.

The Christian group Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in May that protested the sale of those and other adult magazines at military exchanges, saying they violated the decency act.

But the review board had already determined that “based solely on each of the magazines’ content, they were not sexually explicit,” Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for military community and family policy Leslye Arsht said in a response to the group.

Figuring out which adult magazines and other material cross the line on sexually explicit material is a delicate balancing act, Melnyk said.

“The Department of Defense is committed to upholding both the Military Honor and Decency Act, and publishers’ and readers’ First Amendment protections, which the men and women of the United States Armed Forces defend every day,” Melnyk said.

In her letter, Arsht did not elaborate how the board came to the conclusion that the magazines are not sexually explicit, but cited the “Peach Video DVDs” as examples of material that cannot be sold on exchanges.

But Patrick A. Trueman, attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, said the members of the review board need to use “a little common sense” in determining which materials cannot be sold on Defense Department property.

“The law is not complicated in its definition of ‘sexually explicit,’ ” Trueman said. “The porn magazines that are allowed such as ‘Nude Playmates,’ ‘Playboy,’ ‘Penthouse,’ etc. are sexually explicit.”

Trueman also noted that Congress has the ability to limit troops’ First Amendment rights: “Military men and woman are not permitted to wear anti-war symbols and may be required to shave and wear their hair at a certain length, for example.” He said the intent of the Military Honor and Decency Act is clear.

“Congress was concerned about sexual harassment in the military and making military duty more accommodating to servicewomen,” he said. “It was also attempting to protect military families, particularly children, who frequent the exchanges and should not be exposed to porn.”

The review board consists of representatives from each of the services and their military exchanges, with both men and women members as well as active-duty, reserve and retired servicemembers, Melnyk said.

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