SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST MEDIA LAWS THAT PROTECT CHILDREN!
Seven Steps Parents Should Take to Protect Their Children
According to USA Today, the average child in the United States spends 5 hours and 29 minutes a day—seven days each week—watching television, listening to music, or working on a computer at home. To put this number into perspective, an average American child will spend 1260 hours each year in school while spending almost twice as much time being influenced by television, music, or computers. Unquestionably, these media outlets have a substantial influence on the hearts and minds of America’s youth.
Historically, these media outreaches were limited by law in what they could put before the eyes and into the minds of children, but recent Supreme Court decisions have effectively eliminated many of these legal protections.
It is estimated by government experts that twenty-nine million children are potentially exposed to a harmful phenomenon known as audio and video “signal bleed” from sexually explicit adult programming on cable television. This exposure occurs when cable-scrambling technology fails to completely block certain programming that is inappropriate for children, thus allowing discernible and undesired pornographic pictures and audio signals to appear on the supposedly “scrambled” television screen.
In 1996, Congress enacted § 505 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 561, also known as the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), to shield children from hearing or seeing pornographic images resulting from signal bleed. Under § 505 cable television operators that provide channels “primarily dedicated to sexually oriented programming” were required either (1) to "fully scramble or otherwise fully block" those channels, or (2) to limit their transmission to hours when children were unlikely to be watching. Administrative regulations assumed that children are not watching television between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
It is clear now that this legislation to protect children from undesired and undesirable pornographic images did not work. On May 22, 2000, the United States Supreme Court issued a victory to pornographers in its decision in the case of United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer lamented from the bench that Congress' power to protect children from pornography has been reduced to the vanishing point.
Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., a company that owns and produces “adult” programming for TV, filed its lawsuit against the Government to specifically challenge the constitutionality of § 505. The incentive of this giant corporation was purely economic. It was not economically feasible, said Playboy, to completely scramble and block its programming in order to protect children. Furthermore, Playboy claimed that keeping its “adult” programming confined to the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. “no-children” time slot would involve a significant reduction in cable company revenues since 30 to 50 percent of all “adult” programming is watched prior to 10 p.m.
Playboy's ally in this lawsuit, it claimed, was the Constitution. Its constitutional argument was based on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause prohibits Congress from making any law abridging the freedom of speech. In the words of Justice Kennedy:
The Constitution exists precisely so that opinions and judgments . . . can be formed, tested, and expressed. What the Constitution says is that these judgments are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority. The citizen is entitled to seek out or reject certain ideas or influences without Government interference or control.
United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 2000 WL 646196 (U.S.)
Of course, when the First Amendment Free Speech provisions were originally drafted and ratified, there was no thought that this Clause should ever protect obscene and pornographic speech. At that time in America, it was illegal for citizens to view pornography even in the privacy of their own homes.
The decision in favor of Playboy in this case demonstrates how re-crafted interpretations of the First Amendment hinder the government's ability to use the law to protect children and to respond to societal problems, such as pornography. At the same time, pornography’s outreach is rapidly proliferating.
According to one report, pornography is a fifty-six billion dollar annual industry that has exploded over the Internet. Millions of adult men are reported to visit cyber porn websites every day. Even more alarming is the knowledge that the approximately 28,000 adult websites promoting hard and soft-core pornography are equally accessible to the estimated 11 million children who have access to the Internet. Indeed, 31 percent of children surveyed admitted to viewing a pornographic website, often presumably accidentally while they were attempting to visit appropriate sites.
Parents can protect their children from accessing pornography at home by placing filtering technology on their home computers, but what about when they are in school or at the public library? Internet access is available in more than half of the nation’s classrooms and in 74 percent of public libraries. But only 15 percent of public libraries utilize any form of blocking technology on their public workstations. Sadly, this percentage is not likely to increase without a fight because the American Library Association believes that filtering out pornography in the library is censorship. Therefore the Library Association actually discourages librarians from installing filters.
The good news is that a March 2000 survey of Internet users found that 61 percent favor government regulation of Internet pornography. Various versions of the Children’s Internet Protection Act reflect this concern. (See H.R.1501, S. 97, S.1545.) These 1999 bills require schools and libraries receiving Internet access through a federal program providing discounted rates, to certify that filtering or blocking technology has been installed on the computers in order to block access to child pornography, obscene materials, and other material harmful to minors. But action on the House and Senate Bills has been slow and some are worried that the Government’s definition of “harmful material” might not match their own.
What is a concerned Christian parent to do?
Step One: Make a Bible-based commitment to eliminate evil media influence for you and your children. The Word of God speaks clearly on what Christians should allow before their eyes and into their minds. Christians nationwide need to commit to the challenge of Psalm 101:3: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes,” and the command of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
For some Christians this may be the decision to eliminate certain media access into their homes. For all Christians it needs to be the decision to control what media is given access into your home. For example, if only six percent of cable television’s subscriber base requested their cable companies to block undesired channels from their homes (something they are legally required to do free of charge); the costs would force pornographic channels off the air entirely.
Step Two: Control all media influences that reach your children. Parents must accept their God-given responsibility to know what media is reaching their children, and to control what has access to the minds of their children. Do you know how many hours your child spends each day watching television, listening to music or working on the computer? Do you know what television programs your children watch? Do you know what music your children hear? Do you know computer screens your children see? If you do not know, Christian parents must be diligent to find out.
Step Three: Be careful not to create media addictions in your children. Many parents use media as an easy form of childcare without taking the time to develop other interests in their children. It is important that you train your children to acquire non-media interests. Reading books and physical exercise are on the decline in our nation. Remember, the Word of God is the Book around which we want our children to center their lives. If a child never develops an interest in reading, this becomes a far more difficult task.
Step Four: Properly educate your children. We are living in a day when so many parents do not invest an appropriate amount of time or concern into the life of their own children. One way to accomplish this is to make sure that your children are properly educated in the truth. For example, I would encourage you to educate yourself and your children about the true intention of America’s founders in providing its citizens with free speech protections. Be sure to set a good example for your children by regularly exercising your free speech rights as a Christian. Openly and frequently tell others about salvation in Jesus Christ. Please also be sure to share your Christian viewpoint with others, both publicly and privately, on the issues facing our nation.
Step Five: Support family friendly media initiatives. If your child has access to the Internet, be sure to install a filter on your home computer. I would also encourage you to contact your local legislators and encourage them to support the Children’s Internet Protection Act.
Step Six: Stand against uncensored media to children in your local community. Christian parents should complain loudly at the local public schools and public libraries if no Internet filters are in place. (And encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same!)
Step Seven: Recognize that God’s people are in this world but are not of this world. The Bible tells us that this world will never understand the people of God. Titus 2:14 exhorts us with the example of Jesus, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
The Supreme Court has made it clear that the law will not protect America’s children from the influence of potentially harmful media. That responsibility now rests with parents across our land. While the law protects a pornographer’s right to share material through television and Internet outlets, Christian parents have a God-given duty to make sure that their children are not influenced by these unbiblical messages.