Unification News for

April 1998


Freedom of Expression: An Absolute Right?

by Haven Bradford Gow-Eudora AK

Recently, nine Florida high school students were suspended and later arrested and charged with a felony for publishing on campus a pamphlet which included drawings depicting a rape, a head with a bloody fork protruding from it and the school’s black principal impaled on a dart board. The state’s attorney office in Miami had the students arrested for allegedly violating a 1945 criminal libel law prohibiting anonymous publication of material that "tends to expose any individual or religious group to hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy" and Florida’s "hate crime" law, which proscribes offenses motivated by hatred toward a racial, ethnic or religious group.

The state’s attorney in Miami eventually dropped the charges; even so, she and school officials defended the arrests, noting that the student pamphlet contained language and drawings of "an outrageous and highly offensive nature."

Writing in the March 6, 1998 Delta Democrat-Times, Greenville, Miss., Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine, a libertarian publication, sharply rebuked school officials and the local prosecutor and strongly suggested that the First Amendment right to freedom of expression is an absolute right. Mr. Sullum observed: "Americans to often forget that freedom of expression was a controversial notion for most of human history not because our ancestors were benighted fools but because they recognized that speech is often pernicious. The classical liberals who opposed censorship did not claim that all speech was equally worthwhile, but they did insist that a central authority could not be trusted to sort the good from the bad."

Concerning the notion that freedom of expression is, or should be, an absolute right protected by the Constitution, James Vargason, district attorney of Cayuga County, NY, provides this perspective: "There are some who would have us believe that to restrict the dissemination of patently offensive materials infringes certain Constitutional rights, thereby threatening all forms of personal expression. Such an argument ignores the reality that many forms of personal expression are routinely restrained without Constitutional infringement." He adds: "You cannot walk into a crowded movie theater and yell ‘fire’ unless there actually is a fire. Moreover, consider the ongoing debate in America about smoking. Tobacco is a legal substance for adults, but advertising it is severely restricted, clearly infringing upon personal expression."

Mr. Vargason insists that the societal harm caused by pornography and obscenity justify legal restrictions on effort to produce, distribute and view pornography and obscenity; he declares, "Recently I prosecuted a 16-year-old young man for sexually abusing a five-year-old girl. While he was baby-sitting her, he found the little girl’s parents’ triple-X rated movies. He watched one, became aroused and proceeded to sexually molest the little girl. I have also prosecuted grandfathers who have molested their own grandchildren while watching pornographic materials." Pornography, he insists, "is not a victimless form of entertainment, and anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken."

Like District Attorney Vargason, retired FBI agent William Kelly, an expert on organized crime’s involvement in pornography, says people who affirm an absolute right to pornography and obscenity should consider the societal harm caused by such degrading kinds of materials. Mr. Kelly says evidence supports the contention that a connection exists between the widespread availability and popularity of pornography and the nationwide epidemic of sex crimes and violence. Consider:

* The Los Angeles Police Department points out that in the more than 40 child sex abuse cases it investigated between Oct. 1976 and March 1977, pornographic photos were found in every case.

* Twenty-nine of 36 serial murderers researched by the FBI confessed that pornography influenced their thinking and conduct.

* Adult and child pornography is used by pedophiles to seduce children into sexual activity; in one case, a six-year-old girl testified that her father used pornography to entice her into sex.

* Law enforcement people across the United States have found in thousands of cases that most child molesters either collected or produced child pornography.

Pornography reduces sex to a plaything, human beings to mere bodies and human bodies to sex machines; it denigrates the sacredness of sex, marriage, family and human life and transforms sex from a sacred union of life and love to a tool of masturbatory and voyeuristic gratification.

Even those who contend that pornography is harmless must at least tacitly acknowledge the power and influence of words and ideas; otherwise, they never would attend school, go to the library, or write letters, articles, books, advertising copy, and TV and movie scripts.

Certainly if what we read, hear and see affects our thinking, and thinking influences behavior, then pornography indeed can and does have a damaging impact on thinking and conduct. 

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