Another Stupid Censorship Law
| By Sandy Rapp
There they go again. In 1997 the United States Supreme Court's Reno v. ACLU [96-511] unanimously rejected a key provision of the Communications Decency Act. This decision sided with The American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the AIDS Education Global Information in their arguments that it is both unwise and unconstitutional to sanitize from the Internet any information conservatives deem unfit for minors.
But as soon as the ink dried on this historic free speech decision, Ohio Republican Congressman Michael Oxley redrafted the same bill as the Child Online Protection Act, now signed into law as part of the federal budget. This piece of work, currently under a federal judge's temporary restraining order and facing court challenge by groups from obstetricians to booksellers, amorphously criminalizes Internet transmission of all materials "harmful to minors." The strategy is to cast, under pretext of "protecting" minors, all opponents of government censorship as "pro-child-pornography." But, needless to say, the use of minors in pornographic materials is already very illegal.
Censorship Is Fatal To Women!
The dangers of censorship have spoken loudly for themselves throughout our country's history. The Comstock Act of 1873 repressed all sex education, birth control and abortion information as "indecent," How many women died of back- street abortions induced by the repression of accurate reproductive information?
Concurrently, such measures have served as the primary means for oppressing gay people. One of the many things from which such censorship of the world's largest library "protects" children is gay-positive role models. As it happens, the lesbian and gay-male community is itself considered "indecent" by many conservatives, a phenomenon responsible for a history of gay invisibility, barely penetrated now even with all today's "outings." This particular silence keeps lesbian and gay-male youth isolated and unaware of current psychological and medical information that would assure them their orientation is neither a disorder nor an illness.
Censorship Is Fatal To Lesbians And Gays!
This silence, wrought by repressions official and otherwise, does indeed kill. Silence-induced ignorance about sexual orientation manifests in a gay youth suicide rate that is three times higher than the non-gay incidence. Other fatalities proceed from the repression of gay-related AIDS education. Nationally, of course, there are many thousands of Americans dead from lack of effective, explicit, i.e. gay-specific HIV education.
Conservatives Know This!
The people drafting these unconstitutional censorship measures know how the Internet works. They know that anyone can get anything they want and that to restrict for children also restricts for adults. Their goal is to restrict for adults. The conservatives want a return to the Comstock days of no birth control, no abortion, and theater "padlock" laws closing down all shows with gay-related themes.
Existing software screening makes it possible for parents to control viewing absent censorship laws. And what this software screens out well illustrates the danger of placing similar tools in government hands. A column in the National Organization For Women's March 1997 National NOW Times reported: "NOW's Website has been blocked for the past year to users of one product, Cybersitter, made by Solid Oak Software." NOW Times goes on: "According to the Solid Oak President, NOW's site is blocked because of content supporting lesbian and gay rights. Solid Oak states on its Website that it blocks 'homosexuality/transgender sites.'"
Some would very much like to have seen Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report on President Bill Clinton's extra-curricular activities not published. They think it was downright un-American. But, it could not be legally restricted without also restricting the speech of Starr's opponents. Conservatives' focus on the tiny percent of explicit Internet material loosely classified as "pornography" is endangering the primary means, i.e. free expression, through which any civil liberties have ever been attained. Let's hope the Court continues to protect Americans form the Congressional conservatives and their Child Online Protection Act.
Sandy Rapp is a feminist singer and author of a book on lesbian/gay civil rights God's Country: A Case Against Theocracy. She is a founding member of Feminists For Free Expression, a New York-based national organization that challenges censorship across United States.