November 5, 2008
As Americans, we deeply cherish our constitutional right to free speech. And as caring members of our communities, we deeply cherish the safety of our children. But what happens when those two values conflict? What do we do when the exercise of free speech threatens our kids? More specifically, should we allow images of underage victims of pornographic exploitation to be freely exchanged by adult Internet users?
If we take counsel on this issue from the blunt biblical words of Jesus, who warned “If any of you put a stumbling block before any of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42), then it would seem to be a fair conclusion that the wellbeing of our kids is more important than our freedom of speech. And, in a surprising recent initiative, it turns out that three of the nation’s biggest Internet service providers (in cooperation with law enforcement authorities) agree!
Verizon, Sprint and Time Warner have now jointly decided to block access to child pornography newsgroups and eliminate the material from their servers. Although it’s not a perfect or complete solution to the problem of child pornography, the announcement does come as a welcome and important step in the direction of protecting the most vulnerable among us from being victimized. And it’s a step that recognizes, at least implicitly, that the heart of our legal system is a Judeo-Christian moral framework which calls for us to protect the weak, such as exploited children, from those who would oppress them.
From the beginning, our courts have recognized that exceptions to freedom of speech are sometimes necessary. The classic example is the shout of “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Courts have consistently determined that speech of that sort simply cannot be tolerated, because innocent people will get hurt in the ensuing panic. And, of course, the freedom of speech cannot be extended to blatantly illegal conduct either.
Child pornography certainly falls into the category of dangerous and illegal speech. Not only are the victims traumatized and injured, both physically and psychologically, but they are often of tender ages which legally disable them from consenting to the activities involved. They are victims by definition because of the very nature of that illicit and destructive industry.
But to make matters worse, by the time many underage subjects are exploited by pornographers, they have already been victimized by a growing and ruthless network of human traffickers operating across continents and international boundaries. Our U.S. State Department estimates that hundreds of thousands of individuals are coerced or lured unwittingly into the hands of human traffickers every year, and that most of those being trafficked are women and children. And while some of these trafficking victims are sold into sweatshops and commercial enterprises, a very large percentage of them are destined directly for the global sex trade in all its manifestations, including the production of much of the pornography distributed online. Shockingly, credible reports indicate that the U.S. is the third largest importer of women and children for the explicit purpose of sex for money!
So the new restrictions on Internet child pornography are a good start, but they are only a start. Proverbs 31:8-9 challenges us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
How can we do this? How can we protect these children?
We can contact our elected leaders and encourage them to strengthen awareness and enforcement of laws against child pornography and human trafficking, both domestically and internationally. We can educate ourselves to learn the symptoms and signs of abuse in our own communities. We can urge our law enforcement officials to continue their aggressive investigation and prosecution of producers and consumers of illegal images.
And, of course, we can pray that all those involved in the child pornography industry would be released from bondage, whether from their tormentors in the case of the young victims, or from their appetites for such material in the case of the consumers.
While freedom of speech is one of our foundational American rights, there will always be those rare cases in which even our freedoms must rightly be limited. Speech that actively harms vulnerable children and leads directly to their abuse, as in the case of the now-restricted child pornography Internet groups, can, should, and must be limited!
Stephen L. Bloom is a Christian lawyer serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. He wrote The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues (Living Ink Books) and frequently speaks on Christianity and law. For information, visit his website www.IsThereALawyerInTheChurch.com.
Article reprinted from Stephen Bloom's Good News Daily column titled "Good News on the Law." Visit Good News Daily's website at http://www.goodnewsdaily.net/