COMMUNITIES across the United States now have a stronger tool to regulate movie houses that show so-called ``adult'' films, thanks to a decision this week by the Supreme Court. In effect, the court said that cities and towns can use zoning laws to restrict such movie theaters to specific locations. The new element in the ruling is that communities may take such action even before the first films have been shown. The decision is welcome news to American communities struggling to control seedy enterprises in order to preserve the quality of life. The issue is difficult: Society wants to distance itself from the purveying of material of dubious moral value, but without muffling constitutionally protected freedom of speech.
It is easier to prevent the establishment of places that show adult movies, or sell magazines with sexually explicit material, as the court decision now permits, than to root them out later.
Communities have long been able to regulate their environments, for purposes of planning, when other issues were concerned: industrial zoning, noise, and pollution. The moral environment is no less important, and now it, too, can be protected more effectively.