Not your father's librarian

Mona Charen

3/23/2001 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen
Maybe they got tired of being so often portrayed as tightly wound spinsters. But whatever the reason, the American Library Association is certainly playing against type. The association of librarians has joined the American Civil Liberties Union in challenging a law that would deny federal funds to public libraries that fail to install Internet filters on their computers. Asked during a television interview what she would do if a child were accessing pornography on a computer right in front of her, a representative of the ALA said, "We believe parents need to educate their children about how to use the Internet responsibly." If one more libertine instructs me on my duty to raise my children, I think I'm going to scream. Even the best parent is not present with his child every minute of the child's life. So imagine the following scenario: Jason is a well-brought-up 9-year-old whose mom and dad have told him that certain things are not for children. He has never seen pornography because it isn't in his house, his school or his summer camp. But one day, Jason goes to the library with his friend Henry and Henry's mom. While Henry's mom is getting books for her other children, Henry and Jason decide to surf the net and Henry, who has an older brother and whose father moved out three months ago to live with his 22-year-old girlfriend, goes straight for a porn site. Are Jason's parents to blame? Are they wrong to hope that the library would not put such materials within reach of children? Whatever happened to the liberals' enthusiasm for the idea that it takes a village to raise a child? At the time Hillary Clinton published a book to this effect, many conservatives bristled, responding, "No, it takes two parents." To the degree that the village metaphor was meant as justification for broken families, conservatives were right to object. But the objection mustn't be taken too far, because certainly it does require universally accepted norms to raise a child right. We emphatically do not have such a common culture in America today. Although 75 percent of American parents are concerned about children accessing Internet pornography and want the government to do something about it, and though most human beings with a modicum of common sense recognize that a public library is not the place for pornography of any kind, a majority of the opinion-shaping elite emphatically disagrees and shouts "censorship." Stefan Presser, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the Children's Internet Protection Act is "the third effort on the part of Congress to stifle free speech on the Internet." But children do not enjoy constitutional rights -- nor should they. If a child walked into an elementary school carrying a copy of Hustler, he'd be disciplined and the First Amendment would not be compromised. Yet an effort to make sure that the same child cannot, in a school library or after school at a public library, have access to that and worse on a computer screen is called unconstitutional. OK, if kids have full First Amendment rights, why not give them full Second Amendment rights and permit them to come to school carrying pistols and shotguns? It's just remarkable that at the very same moment so-called civil liberties groups and librarians are teaming up to give kids access to porno on the Internet in the name of free speech, Congress is in the process of limiting the very kind of speech the Founders were most keen to protect -- political speech. And they are doing so to the cheers and applause of the same folks who cannot find any good reason to put filtering software on library computers. The American Civil Liberties Union is on record supporting the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. The ALA's website doesn't take a stand on the matter, but it's a good bet that most of them favor so-called campaign finance reform, which is really the worst kind of censorship! One feature of the proposed legislation would prevent Americans from buying political ads within 60 days of an election. Well, just so long as the kids can see smut, we know our liberties are secure.