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December 11, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Debate has erupted online recently over a renewed interest in the federal government’s role in restricting pornography, ignited by a letter urging U.S. Attorney General William Barr to prioritize the enforcement of existing laws on the subject.
Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, and Brian Babin of Texas signed a December 6 letter to Barr decrying the accessibility of “obscene pornography” online and its harmful effects on both women ensared by the porn industry and the society in which porn is viwed, particularly young people exposed to the material.
“Fortunately, U.S. obscenity laws exist that, if enforced, can ameliorate this problem,” the letter states. “Those U.S. laws prohibit distribution of obscene pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, in hotels/motels, by retail or wholesale establishments, and by common carriers.”
While most lay readers would assume that all porn qualifies as “obscene,” in this context “obscene pornography” refers to a legal category. It is determined by whether an “average person, applying contemporary adult community standards,” would conclude that a piece of sex-related material appeals to an “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion”; whether it “depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way”; and whether it “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
The letter laments that enforcement of those laws was effectively shuttered by the Obama administration, and that President Donald Trump has yet to make good on his 2016 campaign pledge to enforce federal obscenity laws.
“Given the pervasiveness of obscenity it’s our recommendation that you declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority and urge your U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material,” the letter says. “We urge you to take this simple yet important step toward protecting the lives of those affected by these long-ignored crimes.”
“As online obscenity and pornography consumption have increased, so too has violence towards women,” Rep. Banks told National Review. “Overall volume of human trafficking has increased and is now the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world. Child pornography is on the rise as one of the fastest-growing online businesses with an annual revenue over $3 billion.”
Several conservative pundits echoed the letter’s call, triggering several days of lively social media debate over both the dangers of porn and government’s role in addressing them. Among them was Daily Wire contributor Matt Walsh, who pushed back against fellow conservatives who oppose porn prohibition on limited government grounds.
“Consenting adults may well have the right to do what they want with each other in the privacy of their homes. But do they have a right to film it and then publish it on a forum where children in elementary school might easily access it?” he asked. “Where does this right originate? God? Did God instill in all humans the inalienable and sacred right to publish footage of their orgies on the internet for all to view? If God did not, then from where or what does this right spring? Perhaps we should consider the possibility that there is no such right.”
“You might argue that this is something for parents, and not government, to handle. But this argument ignores the reality of the situation,” Walsh argued. “Parents cannot possibly shield their children from a porn epidemic that is so ubiquitous and accessible. Even if they restrict all internet access in their own homes, and refuse to allow their children to have phones with internet access (a wise move, to be sure), all it requires is one friend whose parents have not taken that step. And every kid will have at least one friend like that — probably many more than just one.”
Last month, American Principles Project executive director Terry Schilling wrote an essay in First Things proposing further regulations on pornography that could be achieved within the Supreme Court’s current framework.
He suggested requiring internet service providers to “provide a default version of the Internet that is filtered of indecent content, while allowing adult users the ability to opt in to an unfiltered version of the Internet”; imposing new age-verification mandates; confining all porn to a .xxx website domain (clearing the way to simply prosecute any .com, .org, or .net domain on which porn appears); and making platform owners civilly liable for “obscene or indecent material” created by third parties.
“In our time, a new conservatism is being born—one less interested in managing our nation’s decline than in using political power to promote virtue, public morality, and the common good,” Schilling wrote. “The legal framework already exists within which we can tackle the online pornography crisis and defend the innocence of children. We must find the fortitude, finally, to do it.”
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