U.S. Representative Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has proposed a new bill, HR 5528, titled the Pornography Jurisdiction Limitation Act of 2006. This bill, if passed, would stop federal courts from hearing any case regarding state pornography laws and deciding if those new laws would impede on first amendment rights.
Doesn’t sound too bad? Wait. The waters get murkier.
Not only would this law affect pornography in the strictest sense, but would also permit individual states to ban otherwise legal media, including mainstream movies and novels. While I’m sure many of you would like to discuss the ramifications of this proposed law on your favorite theatre experiences, I happen to be a writer, so my particular peeve today is with the proposed license for a state government to ban a book.
In a summary of the bill by the Free Speech Coalition, “HR 5528 would allow states to reduce the expression available to adults regarding sexuality and nudity to material that is suitable only for minors.” That’s right. A state could prohibit the sale of any novels containing any amount of sexual content. The local bookstore and library’s fiction collection could suddenly be consigned to a juvenile section. Our literary (and movie-going) lives could become one giant, G-rated adventure. And there would be no means for any of us to challenge the decision on a non-biased, federal level. Sound pretty Orwellian to you? It does to me. And what does Mr. Cannon have to say about it? “My legislation puts the power to protect families back in the hands of the states, where it rightfully belongs. If there are those who believe a state’s anti-pornography laws are too strict, they can find another state in which to live.” Ahh, the age-old argument of, “If you don’t like it, get out.”
I find it very difficult to swallow the concept this law is being proposed for the welfare of innocents. It is not about keeping a child from wandering away from an inattentive parent and going to the adult section and picking up just the right book and flipping to just the right page and finding a random sex scene. It’s about imposing morality on the population – using the iron fist of the government to clamp down on our purportedly filthy souls for the sake of our own salvation. Well, I’m not in the market to be saved. And I’m certainly not in the mood to be censored.
If you’re still on the fence, thinking the price of relinquishing your world of entertainment just might be a worthwhile trade for protecting a child from having the wrong book fall into her hands, think about this. An author writes a novel using the full scope of his imagination. A publishing house prints it and delivers copies of it to bookstores across the nation. But one state has passed a law banning any type of sexual content in the books its stores sell. This novel happens to have a sex scene, so it cannot be put on the shelves. The author loses an entire state’s worth of sales (and let’s just dispense with the assumption most authors make tons of money — it’s a lie) and his publishing house loses revenue. But, it’s not just about the cash. See, in order to generate sales the next time around and continue scraping by in his chosen profession, the author might be pressured to change his style and write a novel that won’t be banned. And there it is — the suppression of free speech at the source. The absolute annihilation of the First Amendment.
The federal courts are in place to protect us. The judicial system is there to halt the Powers That Be when they overstep their bounds. And that is exactly what the states will be doing if they are granted the right to ban movies and books without any means for their creators or the public to appeal their decisions.
So, what does our future hold? A vast array of knowledge and entertainment at our fingertips with only us as judges of what content is acceptable? Or, a government winnowed selection of works?
This proposed law might never affect you. Then again, you might one day venture to the bookstore and find an empty space where your favorite author used to rest.
And you might never get to know me, or my many writing friends who have incredible stories to tell.