Curbing Internet Pornography Would Safeguard Our Children

Article excerpt

If there is one problem with the recently signed Communications Decency Act, which makes it illegal to post "indecent" material on the Internet, it is its name. Discussions of indecency and pornography conjure up images of Playboy and Hustler, when in fact the kind of material available on the Internet goes far beyond indecency - and descends into barbarism.

Most parents have never been on the Internet, so they cannot imagine what their children can easily access in cyberspace: child molestation, bestiality, sadomasochism and even specific descriptions of how to get sexual gratification by killing children.

Though First Amendment absolutists are loath to admit it, this debate is not about controlling pornography but about fighting crime.

There are few things more dangerous for a civilization than allowing the deviant and the criminal to become part of the mainstream. Every society has had its red-light districts, but going there involved danger, stigmatization and often legal sanction. Now the red-light districts can invade our homes and our children's minds.

During a recent taping of a "Firing Line" debate on controlling pornography on the Internet, I was stunned by the gulf that separates the two sides. For Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and his team, it was about freedom and the First Amendment. For our side, headed by Bill Buckley, it was about our children and the kind of culture that surrounds them.

There are three main arguments on the other side, and we are going to be hearing a lot of them in the year ahead as the ACLU's challenge to the Communications Decency Act comes to court.

The first is that there is no justification for abridging First Amendment rights. The reality is that depictions of criminal behavior have little to do with free speech. Moreover, there is no absolute protection of free speech in the Constitution. The First Amendment does not cover slander, false advertising or perjury, nor does it protect obscenity or child pornography. Restricting criminal material on the Internet should be a matter of common sense in any country that values its children more than it values the rights of consumers addicted to what degrades and dehumanizes. …