Arguments over censorship tend to concentrate on it as a national issue, when there’s really little to argue about there: according to the Constitution, the national government can’t regulate anything but obscenity and should be very limited in its activities in doing so.
Where the real action is and should be is on the state and local level. Political columnist Mona Charen makes the case for one state’s effort to curb child pornography.
Writing in National Review Online and her syndicated column, Mona Charen makes the important point that state-level efforts to halt what the overwhelming majority of the citizenry see as toxic and unjustifiable public activities are valid and do not encumber First Amendment rights. She is most certainly correct in this assessment: the Founders of our nation were clear in stating that the idea of the First Amendment was to protect political speech, not obscenity or all "forms of expression," as a full half-century of Supreme Court decisions has falsely held.
The Constitution left it to the states to regulate what is acceptable public speech and expression beyond political speech, the latter being fully protected. And there was no nonsense about thinking of all speech and other forms of expression as political. No, the idea was to make sure that particular government administrations could not suppress political ideas they found threatening to their continuation in office or the implementation of their ideas. The intent was to avert political tyranny, not to give free rein to pornographers and bearbaiters.
The Court and Congress have turned that on its head in the past seventy-five years, protecting obscenity while undermining political speech at every turn, most notably in recent years in the odious McCain-Feingold campaign law that explicitly placed outrageous restrictions on political activity.
Charen notes how a (modern) liberal, leftish, New York Democrat, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, has cracked down on child pornography in the state. Charen writes:
On June 11, Cuomo announced an agreement with three of the nation’s largest Internet service providers—Sprint, Time Warner, and Verizon—to block access to child pornography and eliminate such content from their networks wherever possible. Negotiations are ongoing with two other, as yet unnamed, service providers.
You might think that these companies would have cracked down on child porn purveyors without the assist of New York’s attorney general. But apparently not. Undercover agents from the attorney general’s office first posed as subscribers and complained to Internet providers about the availability of child pornography. The companies ignored them. Only then did the attorney general drop the mask and switch to intimidation mode, threatening the companies with charges of fraud and deceptive business practices.
Charen acknowledes that some leftist groups have come out against Cuomo, as was to be predicted. They may worry all they like about slippery slopes, and should, but this is certainly an appropriate matter for state governments to consider, and Charen is right to praise Cuomo for his action in this case:
We censor because we find certain things reprehensible and corrupting. Note the gerund. It isn’t just that bad or corrupt individuals choose to trade pictures of children being sexually abused. It’s that we fear that many people who would otherwise not have indulged such sick appetites are moved to do so by the availability of the filth (Cuomo actually used that word!) online.
Culture has consequences. Kristol was right when he argued that “Bearbaiting and cockfighting are prohibited only in part out of compassion for the animals; the main reason is that such spectacles were felt to debase and brutalize the citizenry who flocked to witness them.” We do, as Kristol held, have a proper concern with the way people entertain themselves in public. I would go further and suggest that viewing child porn—even in private—should be as difficult as we can make it. Censor away Mr. Attorney General—and broaden your net.
We can’t have it both ways: either culture has important consequences, or it hasn’t. If it does, it’s our responsibility to apply the classical liberal Harm Principle to culture as in any other realm of society. If someone does something that harms others, the government has not just the authority but a positive responsibility to stop it.
If child pornography does not fit that description, nothing does.