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Report: Gov. failing in obscenity fight

WASHINGTON (BP)–The federal government’s battle against obscenity is insufficient to help families deal with pornography, a pro-family leader says in a new report.

Published by Concerned Women for America (CWA), the report takes a close look at the priorities of the Department of Justice and the FBI in prosecuting obscenity violations. Jan LaRue, former chief counsel for CWA, compiled the report.

“Anybody who keeps track of obscenity prosecutions knows the stats show that it’s not the ‘priority’ we’ve been told it is,” LaRue wrote in the report. “It seems they’re concerned that the First Amendment will self-combust if we make it a tad harder for the nation’s morbidly obese porn addicts to feed an insatiable appetite.”

LaRue’s report looks at the 2008 proposed budget President Bush released Feb. 5. The new budget proposes $25.4 million in program increases for the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice — the division of the DOJ primarily responsible for enforcing obscenity laws. LaRue, though, wants Congress to require accountability from the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. She suggested quarterly progress reports that account for how the increase in funds is being used.

LaRue’s suggestion was prompted by the record of the CEOS in obscenity cases. She said the division reported 40 obscenity indictments between 2001 and 2005, but that total consists of individuals indicted, not separate cases. Obscenity prosecutions are separate from those for child pornography.

“[LaRue’s] article exposes a cancer that is eating away at the souls of our children and men and is devastating families,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, in a response on CWA’s website. “Failing to enforce federal obscenity laws allows the harms of pornography to proliferate and destroy lives.”

LaRue acknowledged the FBI offers “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety” on its website, www.fbi.gov. The guide includes answers to “Frequently Asked Questions,” such as: “My child has received an email advertising for a pornographic website, what should I do?”

The guide says, “Generally, advertising for an adult, pornographic website that is sent to an email address does not violate federal law or the current laws of most states. In some states it may be a violation of law if the sender knows the recipient is under the age of 18. Such advertising can be reported to your service provider and, if known, the service provider of the originator. It can also be reported to your state and federal legislators, so they can be made aware of the extent of the problem.”

LaRue said that response is “inadequate and misleading.” She questioned why the guide doesn’t mention it is a federal crime to use interstate commerce, which she says includes interactive computer services, to send an obscene advertisement through email.

“If there’s anybody on the planet who hasn’t received a commercial e-mail spam that includes hard-core porn, they probably don’t have a computer,” LaRue said.

The obscenity laws are based on a three-part test outlined by the Supreme Court. The test instructs judges and juries to evaluate material under consideration using these guidelines:

First, would the average person, “applying contemporary adult community standards,” find the work, “taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., an erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex or excretion)”?

Second, would the average person, again applying current community standards, find the work “depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct”?

Finally, would a reasonable person say the work, “taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”?

Any material meeting this definition may be found to violate federal law. Anyone convicted of distributing such material may be prosecuted and punished by fines and imprisonment, according to the “Citizens’ Guide to Federal Obscenity Laws” found at DOJ’s website, www.usdoj.gov.

“The jury decides if the material is obscene based on what they know about their community,” said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at CWA.

Phil Burress said many obscenity cases go to trial, but many prosecutors don’t know how to deal with them. The federal government knows how, but refuses, he said.

One problem prosecutors face is pornography sites based outside the United States. If the owner of the site and the server the site uses are located outside U.S. jurisdiction, there is not much the FBI can do. But that is no excuse to hold back from prosecuting those who operate from inside the country, Barber said.

LaRue’s report, titled “Budgeting Wars Part II: Feds Fail at Obscenity Enforcement,” may be accessed at www.cwfa.org.

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  • Dustin McNab