Jacob Sullum
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"Not all of the children who are forbidden to purchase violent video games on their own have parents who care whether they purchase violent video games," Justice Antonin Scalia noted in the majority opinion, questioning the premise that "punishing third parties for conveying protected speech to children just in case their parents disapprove of that speech is a proper governmental means of aiding parental authority." He suggested that the main effect of the law was to enforce "what the State thinks parents ought to want" -- the opposite of respecting parental authority.

On the same day the Court overturned California's video game law, it agreed to consider a First Amendment challenge to the federal ban on broadcast indecency, another policy that imposes government-determined standards of propriety in the name of helping parents protect their children. It features the same sort of constitutionally problematic vagueness and subjectivity, yet applies to adults as well as minors, banning "patently offensive" material related to sex or excretion between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Like California's law, which arbitrarily distinguished between video games and other forms of violent entertainment, the indecency ban is "wildly underinclusive," applying to broadcast TV and radio but not to programming carried by cable, satellite or the Internet. In both cases the solution is not to expand the government's cultural regulations but to privatize them by letting people raise their own children.

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Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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