Legion of Decency

The National Catholic Legion of Decency (LOD) originated in 1933 and served as a campaign agency dedicated to cleaning up and censoring films produced by the motion picture industry. Concerned with the lack of adequate censoring of Hollywood movies by the Hays Production Code of 1930, the LOD threatened a national Catholic boycott of the film industry by holding large rallies and using church pulpits to announce concerns over film content. As a result, the offices of the Hayes Production Code hired Catholic Joseph Breen as a liaison between the LOD and the Hays agencies, which curbed a threat by the LOD to bring an antitrust lawsuit against Hollywood and motion picture producers.

The agency encouraged American Catholics to sign and uphold a written pledge commissioning churchgoers to boycott any films considered immoral or unfit for viewing. Catholics were also told to avoid patronizing local theaters that had previously showcased objectionable films.Because of thewidespread reach of the LOD, film companies and producers were required to make movies that could pass the scrutiny of the censoring board and at times would even rename films or delete scenes considered objectionable for viewing. Films receiving the approval of the agency were generally those reflecting mid-nineteenth century Catholic values and the theology of the Roman CatholicChurch.

Although the LOD attempted to keep American Catholics away from inappropriate material on screen, the national controversies that emerged as a result of the work of the Legion drew even larger crowds to theaters to view the banned films. The agency continued to promote the censoring and reviewing of films into the 1970s.

CHRISTOPHER J. ANDERSON

References and Further Reading

  • Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Skinner, James. The Cross and the Cinema: The Legion of Decency and the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, 1933–1970. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.

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