This month, NCOSE commemorates the 100th birthday of Morton A. Hill, S.J., former president of Morality in Media and cherished friend to human virtue and dignity. To honor him, NCOSE offers the following review of the man he was, the leader he became, and the legacy he left behind.
Father Hill’s greatness is not contingent upon his accomplishments with Morality in Media. In fact, had Father Hill never gained any ground in his fight against sexual exploitation, our testimonies to his worth would burn just as brightly. Unlike so many leaders from history, he is not considered great despite his character; rather, he is considered great because of his character. Father Hill lived a life founded upon a bedrock of charity, integrity, altruism, and diligence and it was those attributes which inspired so many to follow and admire him.
On the day of Father Hill’s passing, his closest associates were asked what it was that they loved about him. Rather than recite legal victories or public awareness successes, everyone responded with one of Father Hill’s virtues that was most beloved by them. “His gentleness,” “his holiness and piety,” “the warm twinkle in his eyes,” “his thoughtfulness and complete honest in dealing with others,” “his perseverance.” One staff member mentioned Father Hill’s thirst for knowledge, recalling how MIM’s president earned a law degree by studying on airplanes, took courses in conservation and accounting, and then became a licensed lock smith after deciding that he wanted to do something with his hands. Another member of the staff, recalling how she met Father Hill, said that while doing free-lance work in the building, she was approached by the white-haired priest in the cafeteria one day. “You look like someone I ought to know,” he said. “What do you do?” Vintage Morton A. Hill: A tireless interest in people.
There could be no doubt, however, that what inspired everyone most of all about Father Hill was his unconquerable and indefatigable spirit in battling the illegal sex industry. His vison was pure and his commitment to decency contagious. The younger members of MIM’s staff, in particular, spoke of how rare it is to find someone “with the courage to stand up for what’s right.”
Of all the homages paid to Father Hill, perhaps the most telling was that conveyed in the condolences sent by President Ronald Reagan following Father Hill’s passing on November 4, 1985.
. . . Throughout his life of service, Father Hill sought to bring the light of truth to public examination of the most sensitive issues of family life and the dignity of the human person. Fighting often as a member of a beleaguered, and occasionally belittled minority, he sought to focus national attention of the general question of the moral content of media presentations and the specific problem of pornography. He was a Tireless defender of the beauty of marriage and human sexuality, and a relentless prosecutor of degradation and exploitation, especially of children.
Of all of Father Hill’s high accomplishments, simply being Father Hill will forever be one of his greatest.
Although we remember Father Hill as gentle and kind, he was not one to go gently into the night; rather, he battled against indecency as a leader, pioneer, and a mover and shaker in the fight for human dignity. His story of leadership begins with the earliest moments of Morality in Media’s history when in the fall of 1962 he responded to the news that sadomasochistic magazines were circulating among middle school boys at the school where he taught. Recognizing the deeper problems represented by such circulation, Father Hill mounted a movement against sexual exploitation that would become his legacy. He reached out to clergy including Reverend Robert Wiltenburg, Rabbi Julius Neumann, and Father William Wood to forge an interfaith partnership between the Lutheran, Jewish, and Catholic faiths. Under their combined leadership, the response to the problem was enormous. Known as “Operation Yorkville,” the movement conducted hundreds of community meetings in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut alerting citizens to the dangers of pornography, and eventually gained a following of nearly 20,000 citizens across America.
In 1968, when Operation Yorkville grew into the national organization Morality in Media, Father Hill was elected president due to his catalyzing work in the movement and inspiring persona. Shortly after becoming president, he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the 18-member Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. In that capacity, Father Hill became the most outspoken opponent of his fellow commission members’ majority report that called for the repeal of all local, state, and federal obscenity laws. Father Hill and Dr. Link, a Methodist minister, with assistance from Dr. Victor B. Cline, a University of Utah psychologist, co-authored the Hill-Link Minority Report. The report famously calls the majority report “a Magna Carta for the pornographer.”
The Hill-Link Minority Report exposed data that was omitted or concealed by the majority, and clearly pointed to the devastating effects of pornography. In October 1970, Senator John McClellan (D-AR) issued a scathing rebuke of the majority report and introduced a bi-partisan resolution, sponsored by 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans, to reject the majority report. The Senate voted 60 to 5 to reject the majority report. That same month, President Nixon rejected “totally” the majority report’s conclusions. The Hill-Link Minority Report’s influence continued when it was cited in the landmark Supreme Court obscenity cases of Miller v. California, Paris Adult Theater 1 v. Slaton, and Kaplan v. California.
Among the most admirable qualities of Father Hill’s leadership was his ability to bring people together. As President, Father Hill formed important friendships with President Ronald Reagan, noted screen actress Loretta Young, Pat Boone, Ed Sullivan, Donny Osmond, and many more. These influential friends brought boundless strength to the movement and helped Father Hill to accomplish many victories including bringing national awareness and developing aggressive policies of obscenity law enforcement that have allowed for the movement to carry on to this day. Across the political, religious, and social spectrums of those fighting against sexual exploitation today, all owe Father Hill a debt of gratitude for his visionary and courageous leadership.
Although Father Hill’s time with us ended 32 years ago, his influence can be seen every day. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) now stands on the foundation of Father Hill’s Operation Yorkville and Morality in Media. Determined to carry on his mission to rescue human dignity from a world ravaged by sexual exploitation, NCOSE has distinguished itself as a nation and international leader in the cause. Equipped with a team of experts, a specialized law center, and a national following of more than 540,000 people, NCOSE has won victories in the public and private sectors including policy changes within the US Department of Defense, Walmart, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, several major hotel chains, and many more.
NCOSE has also been instrumental in landmark court cases regarding sexual exploitation and in the passing resolutions of Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas, and Tennessee declaring pornography as a public health crisis. These victories, and those to come in the future, pay tribute to Father Hill’s leadership and example. This year, as we celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday, let us continue diligently forward in this noble cause with the strength he so courageously exemplified. We offer the same declaration penned in the last letter Father Hill ever wrote in honor of him and each of our supporters:
“With God, all things are possible. I love you all.”