As We Chew Barbecue, Congress Gnaws at Freedoms

By Freeman, Gregory | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 2, 1995 | Go to article overview

As We Chew Barbecue, Congress Gnaws at Freedoms


Freeman, Gregory, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


AH, FOURTH of July weekend.

A time for barbecue.

Baseball.

Getting together with friends.

Giving thought to our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

OK, the last one isn't what most of us do over this holiday period. But it's certainly appropriate to consider those freedoms - and how the government these days seems to be leading the charge to gnaw at those freedoms, nibbling away like termites.

Freedom of expression is clearly under attack.

Concerned about the sending of indecent material over the Internet, the Senate has approved legislation that would impose jail terms of up to two years and fines of up to $100,000 for anyone who over a computer network "knowingly makes, creates, or solicits, and initiates the transmission of any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image . . . which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, (or) indecent." Strictly read, such legislation could force a person to be jailed and fined for using a curse word over the Internet.

Not only is such legislation questionable, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Internet, because some methods allow users to post their messages with total anonymity. Meanwhile, several software companies are aiming in the right direction, by developing software to filter out offensive material and by planning to create industry standards for rating content.

Those firms are doing the right thing because they are planning to make the software available to parents concerned about what they consider obscene. They're comparing the computer to the television set. While not banning potentially offensive material, they plan to make available the "remote controls" to let parents shut the set off.

Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich has criticized the legislation, calling it "a violation of free speech, and it's a violation of the right of adults to communicate with each other."

Gingrich is right on this one.

He's wrong - along with countless other members of Congress - on the issue of flag burning. The House has approved a measure to protect the American flag from burning.

Let's face it, this isn't one of the great problems plaguing us today. There aren't many of us who woke up this morning and complained because our next door neighbor burned a flag overnight. But Congress, never afraid to attack even the pettiest of problems, has forged ahead with legislation. The only area lawmakers who had the fortitude to stand up to this flawed legislation were Rep. …

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