Unification News for May 1997

Fighting Porn on the Internet

Allen Shaw
Washington, DC

Amid arguments both in the courtroom and on the courthouse steps, the Supreme Court began hearings recently on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, legislation intended to prevent minors from accessing pornographic and obscene material through the Internet. On March 19, the first day of the hearings, several organizations, including Enough is Enough, Restore America's Moral Principles (RAMP), the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography, and the Pure Love Alliance, gathered on the steps of the courthouse to show support for the CDA.

For over three hours demonstrators chanted "Enough is Enough! Children don't need that stuff!" Many also carried signs saying "Children + Porn does not equal Free Speech." Several passersby stopped to join in the demonstration or to listen to some of the speeches given by community activists and religious leaders.

A break in the chanting came after about an hour, as a winged techno-Cupid, meant to symbolize the influence of cyber-media on the morals of its consumers, "shot" several other characters with mock arrows, causing them to fall in love with various inanimate objects. The performances ended pointedly when the overzealous "angel" inadvertently crushed a "child" and then quickly disappeared without claiming any responsibility. Ken Yamamoto, whose blond wig and red arrows made him the star of the show, was quoted in the on-line edition of PC Week magazine as saying that "the Internet has a lot of power, but this power can be abused."

Mr. Yamamoto referred specifically to pornography being made available on the Net, much of which is illegal in itself, including images of women and children being molested, tortured and mutilated in the interest of sexual arousal. Although at present many Internet servers, such as America Online, and some adult Web sites already provide for parental screening or require proof of majority for access, there is no law requiring such safeguards. The over 250 sex-oriented Internet newsgroups are all as accessible to curious third-graders as to adults, and pornographic images can be accessed through such apparently innocent headings as "toys" or "cartoons".

This ease of availability to children is what prompted Sen. James Exon to pray in the opening session of the Senate debates on the CDA about a "virtual but virtueless reality" in which some are "littering the information superhighway with obscene, indecent and destructive pornography." Sen. Exon is a strong proponent of the movement to clean up the Web, and has authored amicus briefs for submission to the Supreme Court in its deliberations.

Support for the Communications Decency Act has come from several directions. After a three-judge panel in a Philadelphia federal court called the act unconstitutional under the First Amendment in June 1996, Pres. Bill Clinton remained a strong supporter, saying that he was still "convinced...that our Constitution allows us to help parents by enforcing this act to prevent objectionable material through computer networks." As the question of constitutionality moved into the Supreme Court, the Clinton Justice Department also filed an appeal with the court in January 1997. According to the appeal, "It is better to place some burdens on those who disseminate patently offensive material...than it is to leave children unprotected."

Friends of the Court briefs were also filed in favor of the bill by the National Law Center for Children and Families, with considerable support from Enough is Enough, an anti-pornography group in northern Virginia.

Despite heavy support from both the Clinton administration and much of the community at large, the CDA has received a barrage of attacks from "free speech" advocates and others concerned with maintaining the unrestricted flow of information which has proven to be the Internet's most valuable attribute. At the head of the fight against the act are the American Library Association, the ACLU, and "a Web site offering safe-sex information to young people," according to the March 31 issue of Newsweek.

The Supreme Court is expected to release its decision on the Communications Decency Act in June 1997.

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