Chapter 3: Should Pornography Be Censored?
Chapter 3 Preface
The growth of the Internet in recent years has made a wealth of information available to anyone with a computer and a modem. It has also brought pornography within a few mouse clicks of those who venture into cyberspace—including children. This reality has led many conservative groups and other concerned persons to advocate ways to shield children from exposure to pornographic material on the Net. Solutions include regulations on the transmission of Internet pornography and the use of special software to block pornographic websites in libraries, home computers, and work places. Those who favor such measures believe that pornography is not speech worthy of free speech protection and that therefore regulation is justified. As stated by Barbara Franceski, the director of media for Concerned Women for America, an organization that promotes biblical values,
These days, the First Amendment to the Constitution is regularly trotted out to justify pornography as a matter of free speech. Our Founding Fathers would be horrified by this interpretation. The First Amendment was designed to protect political speech—not demoralizing filth—in a democracy.
Others insist that efforts to regulate Internet pornography pose serious threats to free speech. For instance, they argue that Internet filtering software, while well meaning, often blocks access to valuable, nonpornographic websites while failing to screen out all of...
(The entire section is 361 words.)
Pornography Is Not Protected Speech
The logic that views so little as a spanking as child abuse, but defends the “right” to direct obscene or indecent materials at children via online technology, escapes me. If free speech includes the seduction of children, it is time to discuss the basis and rationale for such freedom.
New Rights for Smut
The truth is that we have arrived at this point of unrestricted expression for public consumption by a process more related to cultural toleration for filth than to genuine development of the law. What would have been considered outside the protection of the common law, national and regional codes of law— and, yes, the U.S. Constitution—as late as a half-century ago, is now found to be a “right” granted by enlightened jurisprudence. Though that is the line of today’s judges and jurists, and one found socially and culturally advanced by humanists and so-called progressives (and scatologists, of course), it is in fact hogwash. There is nothing enlightened or progressive, or constitutionally blessed, about inviting linguistic or visual depravity under an umbrella with decent expression. It demeans literature and art to suggest that smut enjoys equal rights with them, and the same is true of even ordinary communication.
Rewriting the Law
The argument that the distinction between decent and protected communication and the lewd is entirely in the mind of the viewer or the reader is also specious. For...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
Internet Pornography Should Be Restricted
There are more outlets for hard-core pornography in the United States than McDonald’s restaurants. Phone sex is now a $6 billion-a-year industry. And an 18-month study by Carnegie Mellon University found over 900,000 sexually explicit displays on the Internet. Is much of this illegal? You bet it is. But why? Isn’t porn a matter of free expression, free speech? You might think so, given the way the critics have been raving about the movie, The People vs. Larry Flynt—which lionizes the alleged child molester and pornographer who publishes Hustler magazine. But there’s more to the issue of pornography than Hollywood portrays.
These days, liberals regularly trot out the First Amendment to the Constitution to justify everything from pictures of men having sex with animals to “snuff” films—in which women are tortured and killed.
Concerned Women for America (CWA) does not believe our Founding Fathers would in any way sanction this interpretation. The First Amendment was designed to protect political speech—not demoralizing filth—in a democratic society.
As long ago as 1712, the Massachusetts Bay Colony criminalized the publication of anything obscene. And in a 1957 review of constitutional history (Roth v. United States), the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “obscenity” is not and never has been constitutionally protected “speech.”
“A lot of people say...
(The entire section is 2734 words.)
Internet Pornography Should Be Barred from Public Libraries
The American Library Association has an answer for parents who are concerned about pornography on library computers: Buzz off. What’s more, the association recommends that libraries furnish private booths in which patrons, including children, may view Internet porn undisturbed. A growing number of protesters—parents, social conservatives, and some librarians themselves—are fighting back.
Their protests stem from the decision of the Supreme Court in June 1996 to void half of the 1996 Communications Decency Act—the half that sought to outlaw the display of online smut to minors. Although the library association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other groups claim credit for the court’s decision, none of them dared challenge the law’s other half—the one that bars the display to minors of “obscene” material, the type of porn that fails to meet the legal test of literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Outside certain business and free-speech enclaves, this law is popular: One poll found that 80 percent of Americans believe government should curb Internet pornography.
Stocking the Shelves with Porn
This sentiment is shared by most librarians, who have traditionally refused to buy pornographic or otherwise obscene books. Over the last few years, however, more than 40 percent of the nation’s libraries have each paid at least $3,000 to buy a computerized portal into the Internet—and so have stocked...
(The entire section is 1668 words.)
Filtering Internet Pornography in Libraries Is Not Censorship
A 5-year-old is not ready to confront the world. This should be obvious, but it doesn’t seem that way to many free-speech advocates, who are angry that some libraries around the country have installed software on their computers to block out Internet material that’s unsuitable for children.
The objections are coming from some usual sources: the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, and Web publishers. But even the American Library Association has opposed the use of filtering software.
The Librarian’s Role
Traditionally, the library has been a safe place for children. And librarians have long been the guardians of public virtue. While they have been firm supporters of the First Amendment, they haven’t generally interpreted it to mean that they should acquire large holdings of published pornography and make such materials available to children.
Librarians have always acquired books according to their own discrimination and their sense of what is appropriate to their neighborhoods. They generally refuse to buy, among other things, pornography. This isn’t censorship; it’s common sense.
If a library were to have a section of pornographic books, would we want these to be printed in large, colorfully illustrated, lightweight volumes, shelved near the floor where they were easily available to children? Probably not. But we have gone to a great deal of trouble to insure that computers are...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Government Should Not Censor Pornography
Editor’s note: The following viewpoint was originally delivered before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade, and Consumer Protection on September 11, 1998.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you as a representative of the adult entertainment industry. . . . I am a criminal defense attorney in Santa Monica, California, and the Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association of the adult entertainment industry.
Established in 1991, the trade association has a two-fold mission. First, to improve the quality of life for the people who create, manufacture, distribute and sell sexually-oriented products and services. The second part of our mission is to improve the external environment for the products and services through education, advocacy, and media and public relations. . . .
Defining the Terms
The Free Speech Coalition has been very successful in overcoming many of the popular misconceptions regarding sexually oriented entertainment. Typically people and groups hostile to sexuality deliberately interchange terms such as “pornography,” “hard core pornography,” “violent pornography,” “child pornography” and “obscenity.” These terms are legally and otherwise distinct.
Through our efforts, the terms of the debate seem to be changing.
Pornography is not a legal term. It is defined by dictionaries as...
(The entire section is 1228 words.)
Internet Pornography Should Not Be Censored
By the time you read this, the Supreme Court may already have thrown out the Communications Decency Act (CDA), the monumentally ill-advised cybercensorship law supposedly designed to keep kids from encountering porn on the Internet. [The Supreme Court struck down the CDA in June 1997.] While this particular bad legislation is probably toast, there’s a larger lesson not to forget here: People who are frightened by the rapid pace of cultural change will always seek to impose external controls on it, and there will always be callous politicians ready to pander to those frightened people with all kinds of lame, half-baked ideas.
What is worse, some of those politicians—like our endlessly hypocritical President—are willing to support censorship laws they don’t really believe in (and know are probably unconstitutional) simply to appease parents’ fears about what their kids are seeing and hearing. Bill Clinton signed the CDA in 1996 despite the protests of civil libertarians who pointed out that the law was so poorly drafted it could criminalize not just online porn but discussions of AIDS or breast cancer.
But in April 1997, senior White House aide Ira Magaziner (architect of the fabulously successful national health-care plan from Clinton’s first term) said in a speech on electronic commerce that “the administration takes the position that government should not censor content on the Internet.” Hello? That would be the same...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
Libraries Should Not Filter Internet Pornography
Editor’s note: This viewpoint was excerpted from a statement submitted to the National Commission on Library and Information Science on December 14, 1998.
Undeniably, the Internet provides access to knowledge and expression in ways never before possible. It is a venue where “any person can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox,” as the U.S. Supreme Court observed in 1997 in its landmark decision in Reno v. ACLU. From remote learning classes to digital art museums to library collections and news from all over the world, Internet technologies provide an essential tool for learning and communication.
Recognizing the increased use and access provided by public libraries, the Commission has stated that it is holding this inquiry on use of the Internet in libraries to produce a report containing recommendations to assist library managers in addressing problems arising from public access Internet terminals in libraries where children may use them. The Commission has stated that “foremost of these problems is the potential for predation by pedophiles,” and that its report will also deal with the concerns of parents about their children having access to inappropriate material, and privacy issues surrounding direct marketing efforts targeted at minors. We applaud the Commission for conducting this inquiry and believe that promoting safe and effective...
(The entire section is 3586 words.)
Internet Filtering Software Threatens Free Speech
When the Supreme Court overturned the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in the summer of 1997, its decision seemed to put to rest much of the controversy over Internet free speech. But there are now a host of more limited efforts afoot to prune back the range of Internet content and limit access to various kinds of online material. Such technical innovations as “content filtering” and “censor-ware” make it possible for individuals, employers, Internet service providers, and others to block out selected portions of the online world. While the CDA’s criminal penalties for publishing “indecent” material made an easy mark for free speech advocates, these new forms of control pose more subtle and incremental threats— and should force us to confront whether keeping the government out of the censorship business will be sufficient to assure freedom online.
The new world of online media is inevitably changing the terms of debate about freedom of speech and of the press. Words, ideas, and images are being liberated from their original connection to such physical objects as books, papers, magazines, and photographs, and the costs of copying and transmitting information are dropping sharply. Just what constitutes “publishing,” for instance, becomes blurred when books, articles, and even casual notes can be distributed to the entire world, instantaneously and at negligible cost. Much of the difficulty of crafting good public policy for the Internet...
(The entire section is 3453 words.)