As if we needed further proof of the current spree of attacks on rights, now the Justice Department is going after pornography. According to the article, the goal isn’t to rid the country of porn that is clearly reprehensible, such as child pornography:
In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO’s long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.
Department officials say they will send “ripples” through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.
The Justice Department recently hired Bruce Taylor, who was instrumental in a handful of convictions obtained over the past year and unsuccessfully represented the state in a 1981 case, Larry Flynt vs. Ohio.
This scares me. I believe that we are free to make, distribute, and view pornography if we wish, given that it involves consenting adults. That’s the basic idea of liberty. Yet, we have this:
Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the division in charge of obscenity prosecutions at the Justice Department, says officials are trying to send a message and halt an industry they see as growing increasingly “lawless.”
“We want to do everything we can to deter this conduct” by producers and consumers, Oosterbaan said. “Nothing is off the table as far as content.”
Deter this conduct? By consumers? Nothing is off the table as far as content? Where might this be heading…
Regarding the law that Attorney General Ashcroft and the Justice Department will use, there’s this:
The law itself rests on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, which held that something is “obscene” only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. But until now, it hasn’t been prosecuted at the federal level for more than 10 years.
The question is simple: who decides “community standards”? That leads to the next question I have: if my neighbors disagree with what I’m doing, but I’m not harming anyone, why do they get to decide that I can’t do it? When did the Constitution begin to grant the right for the majority to quiet the minority opinion? I don’t believe it does.
Freedom grants you the right to believe and behave as you wish, as long as you’re not harming others. The drawback is that I get the same rights. Freedom doesn’t imply freedom from mental anguish because of things you disagree with. The only way to “guarantee” that we get all Disney and no MTV (as FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps so eloquently put the family-oriented debate) is to turn America into a dictatorship.
Instead, I prefer this idea from Representative Ron Paul, which is brilliant. (I don’t know his views on pornography, so I’m not endorsing the connection that this quote represents his views on pornography. But it’s relevant for the my view of the concept of censorship – “content intrusion” for those of you playing the home version of The Political Hate Speech Drinking Game&trade.):
Since most Americans- I hope- are still for freedom of expression of political ideas and religious beliefs, no one claims that anyone who endorses freedom of speech therefore endorses the nutty philosophy and religious views that are expressed. We should all know that the 1st Amendment was not written to protect non-controversial mainstream speech, but rather the ideas and beliefs of what the majority see as controversial or fringe.
The temptation has always been great to legislatively restrict rudeness, prejudice, and minority views, and it’s easiest to start by attacking the clearly obnoxious expressions that most deem offensive. The real harm comes later. But “later” is now approaching.
The failure to understand that radio, TV, and movies more often than not reflect the peoples’ attitudes prompts this effort. It was never law that prohibited moral degradation in earlier times. It was the moral standards of the people who rejected the smut that we now see as routine entertainment. Merely writing laws and threatening huge fines will not improve the moral standards of the people. Laws like the proposed “Broadcast Indecency Act of 2004” merely address the symptom of a decaying society, while posing a greater threat to freedom of expression. Laws may attempt to silence the bigoted and the profane, but the hearts and minds of those individuals will not be changed. Societal standards will not be improved. Government has no control over these standards, and can only undermine liberty in its efforts to make individuals more moral or the economy fairer.
Proponents of using government authority to censor certain undesirable images and comments on the airwaves resort to the claim that the airways belong to all the people, and therefore it’s the government’s responsibility to protect them. The mistake of never having privatized the radio and TV airwaves does not justify ignoring the 1st Amendment mandate that “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.” When everyone owns something, in reality nobody owns it. Control then occurs merely by the whims of the politicians in power. From the very start, licensing of radio and TV frequencies invited government censorship that is no less threatening than that found in totalitarian societies.
We should not ignore the smut and trash that has invaded our society, but laws like this will not achieve the goals that many seek. If a moral society could be created by law, we would have had one a long time ago. The religious fundamentalists in control of other countries would have led the way. Instead, authoritarian violence reigns in those countries.
If it is not recognized that this is the wrong approach to improve the quality of the airways, a heavy price will be paid. The solution to decaying moral standards has to be voluntary, through setting examples in our families, churches, and communities- never by government coercion. It just doesn’t work.