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Pornography Pretensions

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Always – beneath the reasons – are the reasons.

Americans have a kind of instinct for this:  sensing the reality behind a facade.  It was experience, not cynicism, that coined the old saw that “whenever someone tells you, ‘It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing’…it’s the money.”

The same thing, of course, is often true about pornography.  The more someone goes on and on about how constitutionally important it is to post crime scene photos of naked children on the Internet, or publish dehumanizing photos of women’s breasts and genitalia in “adult” magazines, or otherwise violate the dignity of the human person…the more you begin to suspect that that someone cares less about protecting free speech than protecting his own proclivity for pornography.

In truth, no thoughtful legal mind honestly believes that child pornography or hard core obscenity is something the Founding Fathers wanted to actually protect when they penned the First Amendment.  More often, the people who profess to believe this are tragically caught in the trap of their own inner world, are secretly titillated by the lewd possibilities, or are enamored by their own personal values – and in these cases want to keep the legal corral gate open for any unbridled passions that decide to run free.

Certainly no one wants to think of himself as a sexual pervert.  But wrap lust in the Constitution and the predator is suddenly elevated by many in the media to patriot status.  And who could possibly fault a patriot, if he nurtures a few private peccadilloes, as long as he is “reasoned and expert” in other areas of life or career?

In my years as federal prosecutor, executive director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography under President Ronald Reagan, and beyond, I’ve had ample occasion to hear all the arguments, from the specious to the spurrious, proffered to defend multi-billion-dollar profits of the criminal pornography enterprise and personal “taste,” no matter how tasteless.

The arguments came from people like Perry Bullard – a Harvard Law graduate, esteemed attorney, and chair of the Michigan State House Judiciary Committee – who fought tooth and nail for years against every form of anti-porn legislation in the name of “free speech.”  Tragically, he was found dead in 1998 of auto-erotic asphyxia, with sexual paraphernalia and hard core pornography strewn around his naked body.

The arguments came from people like Charles Rust-Tierney – a public defender and director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.  As an ACLU attorney, Rust-Tierney endorsed that organization’s official position, as stated by its national legislative counsel in 1985, that child pornography should be protected by the First Amendment.  He also echoed the ACLU’s ongoing defense of groups like the North American Man/Boy Love Association, whose whole raison d’etre is the promotion of sex with children.

Over most of the last decade, the ACLU leader was an aggressively outspoken advocate of unlimited Internet access for children and for eliminating Internet filters on public library computers.  People can be trusted, he said, to “behave responsibly and appropriately.”

But in the end, it was the ACLU’s director who couldn’t be trusted.  He was arrested last year in Arlington for receiving and possessing child pornography, a hobby with which he’d apparently been involved for years.

Currently, the most prominent public defender of pornography is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit – one of the highest-ranking jurists in the country and a potential contender for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court – who, until recently, had been presiding over a highly-publicized obscenity trial in Los Angeles.

The trial came to a halt on June 10 when the prosecutor confronted the judge with evidence that his honor had been maintaining a publicly accessible Web site featuring sexually explicit material.  This led to a mistrial, setting back a prosecution of the worst images imaginable, costing American taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, and delaying justice both to the defendant and the American people.

The judge’s images include scenes of bestiality and naked women painted to resemble cows.  According to The Los Angeles Times, the judge has been collecting such material for years and finds such images “funny.”  What a disappointing thing for such an otherwise brilliant person – in his nation-shaping position – to say about such affronts against the dignity of human persons.

Maybe that insensitive worldview is why, in “defense” of the First Amendment, he led efforts to remove filters from the circuit court’s computers a few years ago.  Like so many who wrap their personal values in the Constitution, he was concerned that those opposed to tax-funded access to pornography not be allowed to impose their moral standards on their fellow Americans, especially the court’s employees.

But what of those imposing their immoral standards on those of us who still don’t think its “funny” when women and children are treated like mistreated farm animals to titillate some men?

The defenders of the indefensible work hard to persuade us – and, perhaps, themselves – that pornography is nothing more than the harmless indulgence of “consenting” adults to color outside the lines of convention.  “You can’t legislate morality,” they say.

But the truth is, you can’t legislate anything else.  The truth is that often the most tragic victims of pornography are neither the people in the pictures nor those who lust after them…but the innocents whose futures are corroded by men and women whose moral judgment is irreparably harmed and psychologically warped by their unrestrained indulgence of the basest aspects of the human soul.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that men who refuse to see that all human beings were created in the image and likeness of God refuse to look at themselves as predators in the thrall of their own unquenchable desires.  Indeed, that’s one more tragic aspect of pornography…that those who indulge it and those who defend it rapidly lose the capacity to recognize the deep wrong and harm of what they advocate.  They don’t think of themselves as perverts, or facilitators of evil.  They think of themselves as thoughtful, educated men whose cultivated reason can see the “larger issues” at stake in any discussion of free speech.

But beneath the reasons – always – are the reasons.

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