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Obscenity prosecution underscored in proposed congressional resolution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A resolution stating, “It is the sense of Congress that the federal obscenity laws be vigorously enforced throughout the United States,” has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Attorneys for Morality in Media, a national organization that works to curb illegal traffic in obscenity and uphold standards of decency in media, drafted the resolution, which has been introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R.-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Crime Subcommittee, and 16 other representatives.

“We thank Chairman Smith and the other representatives for introducing this resolution,” said Robert W. Peters, president of Morality in Media. “In two national opinion polls conducted for Morality in Media in 1997 and 2002 by the Wirthlin Worldwide market research firm, eight out of 10 adult Americans said they support vigorous enforcement of federal laws against obscenity.

“If passed, the resolution will show that Congress stands in solidarity with the people of the United States in support of vigorous obscenity prosecution. We are confident of its passage — at least by the House — in the current session of Congress.”

House Concurrent Resolution 445 notes, in part:

— That obscene material is unprotected by the First Amendment, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its Miller v. California decision in 1973.

— That to equate “the free and robust exchange of ideas” and the “commercial exploitation of obscene material” demeans the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court said in the Miller decision.

— That there are legitimate governmental interests in stemming the tide of obscene materials, including protecting the “quality of life” and “public safety” and maintaining “a decent society” as determined in the Paris Adult Theatre I decision in 1973.

— That Congress has strengthened federal obscenity laws, including, in 1996, prohibiting sending obscenity over “an interactive computer service” such as the Internet.

— That the Internet has now become “a conduit” for hardcore pornography that reaches into the tens of millions of American homes, where small children can be exposed to Internet obscenity and older children can easily find it.

— That a May 2 report from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences notes that “aggressive enforcement of existing anti-obscenity laws can help reduce children’s access to certain kinds of sexually explicit material on the Internet.”

— That “vigorous enforcement of obscenity laws can help reduce the amount of ‘virtual child pornography’ now readily available to sexual predators.”

In early June, the U.S. Department of Justice hosted a training seminar in Columbia, S.C., for federal prosecutors on how to prosecute obscenity cases. The meeting was the first time the nation’s 93 U.S. Attorneys have focused on the issue in nearly a decade.

“Obscenity invades our homes persistently through the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and now the Internet,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said at the symposium. “This multi-million-dollar industry with links to organized crime has strewn victims from coast to coast. Never before has so much obscene material been so easily accessible to minors.”

Ashcroft went on to say it is estimated that nine out of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have been exposed to obscene material on the Internet. In most cases, he said, this exposure is accidental and occurs when a child — often in the process of doing homework — uses a seemingly innocent-sounding word to search for information or pictures.

Bruce Taylor, president and chief counsel of the National Law Center for Children and Families, said the seminar was a result of the attorney general’s promise to renew efforts to enforce both obscenity and child pornography laws.

“This was the first step in re-educating federal prosecutors in what the law is and what prosecutors need to know to begin prosecution,” Taylor said in Focus on the Family’s June 12 Citizen Issues Alert newsletter.

In addition to the June meeting, the Department of Justice is taking other steps to prepare prosecutors to enforce obscenity laws, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, recounted in a July commentary.

Section Chief Drew Oosterbaan has begun rebuilding the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, “which is beginning to emerge as an energized, trained and experienced staff of professional prosecutors in tune with the intricacies of the sex industry and its ever-evolving use of the Internet,” Sekulow noted. During Oosterbaan’s tenure the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section has had several successful child pornography investigations such as Operations “Avalanche” and “Candyman,” Sekulow added.

Other developments cited by Sekulow:

— The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section is working with the United States Attorneys’ Offices to create task forces in communities throughout the nation with the goal of prosecuting obscenity cases.

— The section is focusing a congressional appropriation of nearly $1 million to launch what Sekulow described as “a bold initiative to create a specialized forensics unit to investigate obscenity on the Internet.”

— Ashcroft has signed a recommendation that the so-called “lock-out provision” be eliminated from the United States Attorneys’ Manual. The provision required attorneys within the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to get prior permission from the local United States Attorney before conducting investigations in their district.

“It is clear that the attorney general has devoted precious time and resources to doing the right thing, right now,” Sekulow noted. “Under his leadership, the Department of Justice is building momentum for a systematic and national campaign to prosecute aggressively those who undermine the liberties of those who wish to remain free of the obscene material permeating our society.”

Peters, of Morality in Media, noted after the House resolution’s July 23 introduction, “Vigorous enforcement of federal obscenity laws came to a somewhat abrupt halt in 1993, right around the time when the Internet was getting ready to take off. In large measure because of a lack of federal obscenity law enforcement, the Internet is now saturated with websites peddling hardcore pornography, resulting in untold numbers [of young and old] being lured into sexual addictions. The harm done by pornography shows up in failed marriages, rape, sexual abuse of children, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion. Curbing traffic in illegal obscenity will reduce the number of such tragedies and the need for government programs to deal with them.”

Peters also pointed out that “much if not most hardcore pornography is consumed by a small percentage of addicts,” contradicting defenders “of hardcore pornography who say that the widespread availability of this vile material indicates community acceptance of it.”

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  • Erin Curry