In recent years, the U.S. Department of Justice has paid only lip service to the enforcement of federal obscenity laws. In some instances, DOJ has gone after child pornographers and — in a scant few cases — has prosecuted purveyors of the most obscene and graphic adult pornography. But unfortunately, the government has been largely AWOL when it comes to enforcing an entire section of U.S. law, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1460-1470, which criminalizes much of the adult hard-core pornography that has saturated both the Internet and our communities.
Although obscenity enforcement has not been a priority for the DOJ, it is a priority for most of the American people. A 2004 Wirthlin Worldwide opinion poll found that more than four out of five Americans want existing Internet obscenity laws vigorously enforced. To help illustrate that reality, Concerned Women for America is preparing to send the Justice Department more than 16,000 signed petitions that firmly but respectfully demand our nation's obscenity laws be properly enforced.
The courts have held that there can be constitutional coexistence between federal obscenity laws, which criminalize certain hard-core pornography, and the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), that obscene material is "unprotected by the First Amendment" (413 U.S. at 23) and that obscenity laws can be enforced against "hard-core pornography" (413 U.S. at 28).
Yet law enforcement officials at the local, state and federal levels have chosen to sit back and do almost nothing while the pornography epidemic hits critical mass. Like a sexually transmitted cyber-disease, it widely infects men, women and even children.
Due to the instant availability of such obscenity and the lack of enforcement against it, there are, no doubt, many good people reading this article right now who know someone, love someone or have themselves been ensnared by this public pestilence. And, like a drug dealer doling out crack cocaine to his hopelessly addicted prey, those who produce and distribute this smut are getting away with societal murder.
Many say pornography is victimless, but we know that's a lie. It is extremely destructive to all parties involved. It reduces women and even children to mere sex objects and destroys individuals, families and communities.
Adult pornography creates a trap that is difficult to escape. It entices viewers to consume more and more smut and to delve deeper and deeper into more graphic and obscene material.
During a 2004 hearing held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, several experts testified as to the highly addictive nature of pornography. Those experts further testified that regular consumption of adult pornography can breed sex offenders who prey on women and children. It provides a gateway to child pornography and eventually to child sexual assault.
Regrettably, our federal government's lack of enforcement has sent a clear signal — whether right or wrong — to smut peddlers and sexual predators: The government is a paper tiger. There are no real consequences for violating obscenity laws and abusing women and children.
That's why it was very encouraging to hear Michael Mukasey, the new U.S. attorney general, declare during his confirmation hearings that he, too, is concerned about the proliferation of such illegal and obscene material.
In a Nov. 9, 2007, letter to Mukasey, Wendy Wright of CWA and several other leaders in the fight against obscenity — including Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund and Pat Trueman, former chief of Child Exploitation and Obscenity for the Justice Department — requested a meeting with the attorney general to discuss this rapidly growing pornography epidemic. He has not yet replied, and with less than a year left in the current administration, it is imperative that he soon does.
Attorney General Mukasey is now in the unique position to reverse the ever-increasing tide of illicit obscenity. He has been given both a momentous opportunity and a grave responsibility. It is up to him to quash this epidemic at its source.
The days of looking the other way are over. It's high time the welfare of families and children takes a greater priority within the Department of Justice than in previous years.
The American people have spoken. The pornography plague on our culture can no longer be ignored. Federal obscenity laws are already on the books; they need only be enforced.
General Mukasey, you have publicly indicated a willingness to take on this affront to decency, for which we are very grateful. Now it just needs to be done.
Do it because it's right. Do it because the law demands it. Do it for our children. But, please, sir, for whatever reason — just do it.
Matt Barber is one of the like-minded men with Concerned Women for America. He is an attorney concentrating in constitutional law, and serves as CWA's Policy Director for Cultural Issues.