Son of CDA

I recently caught Senator Dan Coats on one of the morning news shows, and I immediately thought of Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line, "There you go again!"…

I recently caught Senator Dan Coats on one of the morning news shows, and I immediately thought of Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line, "There you go again!"

Coats is evidently unperturbed by the fact that his "Communications Decency Act" was ruled unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court. While he claims that his new effort to censor the Internet will meet the Court’s objections, it seems unlikely that he has actually read the opinion, since several elements of his current effort are identical to those specifically disallowed by the Court.

Coats contends that "Unlicensed freedom is anarchy," a sentiment that certainly seems inconsistent with his professed belief in limited government.

If parents are concerned about cyberspace "indecency," the private sector will produce filtering software to sell them. Such products are available now, and more sophisticated versions are being introduced regularly. Senator Coats has often pointed to other government regulations which are unnecessary because market forces will provide appropriate solutions; why is the heavy hand of government so essential in cyberspace?

Small businesses are the engine driving American economic performance. What crisis requires passage of regulations so onerous and unworkable that the Supreme Court determined they would put thousands of small computer service providers out of business?

And what about the right (and, one might add, the responsibility) of parents to raise their own children as they see fit, without the intrusion of government-paid moral busybodies? Of course, it is not mom and dad who are clamoring for government to make parenting decisions for them. It is would-be censors, who are using protection of children as a pretext for controlling expression that they deem harmful or offensive.

There is a great deal of intellectual dishonesty in the debate about "porn" on the internet. When Senator Coats and others argue for government censorship, their examples are always legally obscene. By focusing on material most of us find shocking, and neglecting to mention that there are already laws on the books that deal with such materials, they hope we won’t notice that their definition of "indecency" goes far beyond what is legally obscene, and far beyond what most of us would consider objectionable.

The CDA would have criminalized discussions of safe sex by AIDS prevention groups; descriptions of prison conditions in third world countries; even discussions of breast cancer and birth control. Vast chunks of world literature and art would arguably have fallen under vague definitions fashioned by those who know better than you or me what information we should be able to access. Son of CDA is no better.

These well-meaning guardians of my morality and yours fail to understand that in a free country, government does not get to decide what I read, listen to or download. I get to make those decisions for myself, and for my children. And just as I am not required to approve of the decisions others make, they do not get to approve or veto mine.

It’s called liberty.