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May 27, 2000
Column #978


     The Supreme Court issued an incredible opinion this week, that it OK for Cable TV to broadcast hard core pornography depicting intercourse with the signal only partially scrambled, at any time, so that soon it can be seen by children when they come home from school.

     Up till now, this smut was available only after 10 p.m. The Playboy Channel said this imposed a hardship that reduced its income by $2.5 million a year. 

     The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, showed more compassion for Playboy than for children who will soon get access to it.

     How did America get to the point that raw sex is defended on grounds of free speech? 

     America has become corrupted by pornography. Too many of us watch it and tell ourselves that it is harmless. But it a silent factor in perhaps half of America's divorces, according to Dr. Richard Land, director of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. It has melted away criticism of open adulterers or even those in public office who practice kinky sex. Bill Clinton's poll numbers rose as details of his affair became known. 

     However, this decision is a watershed event that will spread the corruption rapidly to our children unless decisive action is taken by millions of parents and voters.

     First, they must understand the issue, which is a bit technical.

     More than half of homes get TV via cable which offers premium channels at an extra cost, such as HBO, Showtime, Disney and Playboy or Spice, another sex channel recently bought by Playboy. Cable companies ''scramble'' the signal of those channels to those who don't pay for them. However, most cable companies allow the full sound and much of the regular signal to be seen by non-subscribers, followed by seconds of twisted signals. Why? They hope you will see enough to make you want to pay $10 a month more to see uninterrupted movies or sex.

     Congress was concerned enough about it that it passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that ordered Cable TV to ''fully scramble'' its signals, or to show such programming only past 10 p.m. when few children are watching. It was a reasonable law to protect America's kids.

     Another section of the law requires cable operators to block any cable channel at the request of a subscriber. The Supreme Court said this loophole gave parents a ''less restrictive'' means for parents to protect their children. In First Amendment matters, ''if a less restrictive means is available for the government to achieve its goals, the government must use it,'' wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority.

     Playboy challenged the restrictions, and a lower court ruled that the rules violated the First Amendment by targeting a certain kind of speech sexually explicit material...and banned it for most of the day. Kennedy said that silenced ''protected speech for two-thirds of the day in every home...regardless of the presence...of children or of the wishes of the viewers....To prohibit this much speech is a significant restriction of communication between speakers and willing adult listeners.''

     Thus, in effect, the court equated the moans and groans of copulating couples to the free speech of newspapers or candidates running for public office.

     Justice Thomas conceded that ''at least some of the cable programming'' is obscene, but noted the Clinton Administration, in defending the law, provided ''no factual finding that any of the materials are, in fact, obscene.'' But if Thomas thought it obscene, why did he vote to allow it to be seen 24 hours a day? 

     One sad small answer is that the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas as a Justice in 1991 when it knew that he regularly watched porn and had made sexually offensive comments to a colleague. Thomas normally votes with the conservatives. But on this, he sided with the liberals.

     Parents, here is a three-step plan of action. First, you must take a look at what will soon be available to your children when they come home from school. Tune into your Playboy or Spice channel after 10 p.m. and ask yourselves if you want your children to see this smut.

     Second, write a letter to your cable company asking it to install a blocking device on your sets, and urge others in your PTA to do so too. Pat Trueman of the American Family Association thinks that if 10,000 subscribers made such a demand, the cost to the cable operator would be so high that it might continue to block access to porn to all homes until 10 p.m.

     Finally, raise the issue with Gore, Bush and others running for public office.

     ''What the court has done is to say to parents, `You are now on your own to protect your children from pornography on Cable TV and the Internet. We will not allow the government to help you,'' says Bob Peters, President of Morality in Media, a Catholic watchdog group. 

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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