cr> OPPOSITION: Cleaver on “Net Filth”


Craig A. Johnson


Date:          Thu, 15 Feb 1996 10:57:04 -0800 (PST)
To:            •••@••.•••
From:          •••@••.••• (--Todd Lappin-->)
Subject:       OPPOSITION: Cleaver on "Net Filth"

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) did not spring forth into the
world overnight.  In fact, it spent almost a year kicking around the
halls of Congress before President Clinton finally signed it into law
last week.

Along the way, CDA received a lot of support from the Christian
Coalition and the Family Research Council.

Cathleen A. Cleaver is director of legal studies at the Family
Research Council. She has been outspoken in her defense of the
censorship provisions contained within CDA.  She's often quoted in the
mainstream media as an "anti-pornography activist."

This is an op-ed piece Cleever published in the Houston Chronicle on
February 11.  It presents her side of the story.

I'll confess... I was very tempted to annotate this piece by
highlighting all the distortions and factual misrepresentations it

Instead, I'll just say this:

Cleever equates "indecency" with "obscenity" (and by extension,
hard-core pornography).  But the two ARE NOT the same.  Obscene speech
is already illegal, and does not enjoy First Amendment protection. 
Indecent speech is often sexually explicit, but it's hardly the same
as pornography. In fact, indecent speech often has redeeming social
value.  That's why it enjoys constitutional protection.

Cheever ignores this.  For her, Indecency = "Filth" = Pornography.

She's dead wrong.

Read on, fellow "free speech zealots," to see how the other side is
spinning the tale.  It's important to understand what we're up

--Todd Lappin-->
Section Editor
WIRED Magazine

Only right to keep filth from children

By Cathleen A. Cleaver

A federal court recently upheld the felony convictions of
Robert and Carleen Thomas for their computer bulletin board
called "Amateur Action: The Nastiest Place on Earth."

The entrepreneurial couple made a mint by selling the
unspeakable graphic computer images of children raped by their
parents, women tortured and bestiality scenes.  A leader among
"adult" computer services, Amateur Action advertised on the
Internet  by floating free "teaser" images, including one of a
woman nailed to the table by her genitals.

Shocking?  Extremely.  The ACLU and other "civil liberty" groups
tried to defend the Thomases by chanting the "free speech"
mantra and howling about "cyber-community" rights, but,
thankfully, the court was unmoved.  The case marks one small
victory for the civil liberties of women and children whose
physical and emotional defilement was sold as entertainment,
and for the future members of this rising global community.

Do we need other laws?  The Thomases were convicted of the
federal crime of selling obscenity to adults.  But if their
customers had been teen-agers, and their pornography
soft-core, they would be scot-free.  That is, before the
Communications Decency Act.

The act prohibits the knowing distribution or display of porn
to children via computers.  It does not prevent adults from
receiving or accessing it.

There is nothing novel about this new law.  We have long
embraced laws that protect children from exploitation by
adults.  We prohibit adults from selling porn magazines or
renting X-rated videos to children.  We also require adult
bookstores to distance themselves from schools and
playgrounds.  Do these laws limit adults' freedom?  Of course
they do.  Are they reasonable and necessary anyway?  Few would
dispute it.

Specifically, the Communications Decency Act protects children
from "indecent" material, which the law defines as patently
offensive depictions or descriptions of sexual or excretory
activities or organs.  Some free speech zealots don't like this
standard, and are promising a challenge in court.  The threat
is hardly ominous - the  indecency  standard has survived
numerous court challenges by friends of the porn industry.  In
fact, just last month the Supreme Court further solidified
this standard by again rebuffing a challenge to its

The Communications Decency Act will not criminalize
Shakespeare or Joyce.   Indecency  laws require the courts to
evaluate material in its context, taking into account things
like literary value.  Outside of the courtroom, common sense
helps us discern great literature from gratuitous sex.

Indecency restrictions do not regulate the message, but the
manner in which it is conveyed.  As the Supreme Court aptly
recognized, few, if any, thoughts exist that cannot be
expressed in a less graphic manner.  We've managed to
understand and apply the concept of  indecency  for decades, and
it's not likely that we shall suffer a collective memory loss
now that the CDA is law.

Also, one should remember that the CDA was not drafted in
haste.  It is the product of protracted research and analysis
of relevant law and technology.  Its carefully crafted approach
holds users liable only for knowing violations of the law, and
provides defenses for those who try, in good faith, to keep
their indecent material away from kids.

The CDA also takes into account the diverse roles of online
service providers, treating them like common carriers or
distributors, depending on their functions.

The objection to the new cyberporn law has less to do with
freedom than with arrogance and greed.  Most Americans do not
have access to the Internet.   The online elite would like to
keep it that way.  They know that when the information
superhighway is truly open to all, they will have to live by
the rules of a diverse community, respecting all its members,
including children.


TAGLINE: Cleaver is director of legal studies at the Family Research
Council, a Washington, D.C., research and advocacy organization.


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