State Sen. John Grant is on a moral crusade. He has introduced a spate of legislation this year designed to control what you read, watch and wear. According to the Tampa Republican, Florida's citizenry would be eminently better off if government grew so obese that it loomed omnipresent controlling the rights of adults to choose entertainment and the rights of parents to choose their children's toys. He may not have invented Big Brother government, but he sure is perfecting it. At first glance, Sen. Grant's list of moral do's and don'ts may sound reasonably inviting. But even a cursory analysis reveals how dangerous these ideas are to expressive freedom.
Pornography "victims." Congress has repeatedly rejected the federal version of Grant's "Pornography Victims' Compensation Act." The bill would allow, "victims of pornography" to sue the producers and distributors of material with sexual themes for harm suffered from it. The concept is similar to letting parents sue the creators of Beavis and Butt-Head because their child set their home on fire after viewing an episode in which the characters did so; except, in this case, the material in question must be obscene.
If passed, the legislation would substantially chill legitimate sexual speech. Producers and publishers know that they cannot control the interpretations and impulses of psychotic people. They also know that, because of their deep pockets they are tempting targets for crime victims whose actual attackers are penniless. If they become liable every time a social deviant reads a story or views an image and then acts it out on a victim, production of all material with adult themes will stop.
Of course, this is Grant's hope and intent. But imagine how much we would be giving up. History is replete with obscenity prosecutions for works we regard as classics. Ulysses by James Joyce, Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence, and An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser were all found obscene by American courts. Under Grant's law, publishers would no longer consider artistic merit; instead they would weigh the risk of lawsuit.
Blaming written text or a visual image for the misdeeds of an individual is also just another way to absolve the perpetrator of responsibility for his crime. Comedian Flip Wilson's character Geraldine used to say,"The devil made me do it," when she wanted to reduce her culpability for an indiscreet act. Here, all the criminal would have to do is point an accusatory finger at a book, magazine or video and his actions would be justified by a state-created irresistible impulse.
"Violent" video games. Grant's proposed legislation which limits access to "excessively violent video games" for anyone under the age of 18 is a perfect example of big government run-amok. It will guarantee only one thing: Kids will play the verboten games until they fall over from exhaustion. The suggestion implied by this proposal - that violence in our society is somehow linked to these toys - is patently absurd. If Grant's intention is to reduce juvenile delinquency, this is a misguided approach.
Although censorship is the cheapest item on the social re-engineering list it is also by far the least effective. It is extremely expensive to lift a child out poverty, provide him an encouraging and functional family, a high quality education, decent housing, nutrition and medical care, including treatment for chemical dependence. It is very complicated to instill in a child hope for the future, the ability to delay gratification and an inner sense of self-worth. Yet that is what necessary to prevent anti-social behavior. Making silly rules about video-games just ain't gonna cut it.
Sunbathers as criminals. Grant's bill to limit nude sunbathing is so broad that it would impact private hotel swimming pools. If you thought Florida was in danger of losing German tourists due to its crime problem, just wait until they start getting arrested for lounging topless by the pool! Grant's government cover-up not only infringes upon your right to express yourself through dress (or undress), it's bad for business.
Bathroom obscenities. Grant's proposal to add defecation and urination to the state's obscenity laws would make any description or display of those acts potentially illegal. Doesn't our government have better things to worry about than the legality of a potty training video?
The ACLU will vigorously oppose Grant's grand scheme to enlarge government and its role in your personal clothing and entertainment choices. His curative approaches to society's problems are both simple-minded and moralistic. The First Amendment guarantees of expressive freedom simply should not be toyed with by a legislator who thinks he's your minister.
Robyn Blumner is a columnist, lawyer, and director of the Florida ACLU. The opinions she expresses are not necessarily those of the ACLU.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the St. Petersburg Times.
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225 NE 34th St. #102
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Rock Out Censorship's Florida Representative has a petition that specifically addresses the proposed legislation by Senator Grant. Look for it, and sign it at R.O.C.'s booth at shows all over Florida, or call Kenny Moore, at 407-855-4529 for information about getting one.