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The Religious Right’s New Anti-Free Speech Crusade

Reports are emerging that four Republican senators are set to lobby Attorney General Bill Barr to crack down on the pornography industry using obscenity laws. 

National Review columnist Alexandra DeScantis broke the story, tweetingFour representatives have sent a letter to Bill Barr this morning, calling on DOJ to prosecute hardcore pornography that meets legal standards for obscenity.” 

The letter sent by the four GOP congressmen outlines what they perceive as societal ills perpretrated by the existence of “hardcore pornography” but do not specify what they mean by that term (i.e. where the line is drawn between “normal” and “hardcore”). They also call for governmental regulation of the internet to stop what they describe as “long-ignored crimes” of not prosecuting. They also reference a campaign promise by President Trump to crack down on the porn industry using obscenity laws.

This new effort was all the rage for the Religious Right on Twitter, with self-described “theocratic fascist” Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire tweeting “Parents can’t possibly protect their children from porn at this point. All it takes is one friend with a phone or a laptop. The situation is too out of hand and porn is too ubiquitous. Either the state gets involved or we accept that kids will access this stuff.” 

He also wrote a constitutionally illiterate tirade, titled in his typically long-winded fashion “WALSH: A Group Of Republicans Want The Government To Start Fighting Hardcore Pornography. They’re Right. Here’s Why.”

My aforementioned accusation of constitutional illiteracy on the part of these anti-porn crusaders comes from a Case from 2009 called “United States v. Stevens” in which the Supreme Court struck down the exact types of obscenity laws that the GOP is endorsing, and in nearly unanimous fashion (it was an 8 to 1 decision). 

The specifics of Stevens are nearly exactly analogous to what Walsh, DeScantis, et. al are proposing. In this case, the Court examined the DOJ’s attempt to crack down on what is called “crush porn” (the finer details of which can be Googled by readers if they have the stomach for it). The DOJ’s case for prosecuting Robert Stevens was his alleged involvement in the distribution of these types of videos.

In this case, the Court used judicial review to fully, unequivocally reject 18 U.S.C. Section 48, which was an obscenity law that describes the new conservative proposal nearly to a “T” citing it as being violative of the First Amendment, wth conservative firebrand Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion. 

 Conservatives may be correct to point out the societal ills caused by the proliferation of porn, and those negative effects are disproportionately affecting young adults and women. That is a scientific argument, backed by scholarly literature. But alcohol was at one point banned in America, and we all saw how that went. 

But to launch a crusade to ban porn they don’t like is ill-advised and constitutionally illiterate, not to mention being the antithesis of the “small government” philosophy they claim to preach. The attempt to ban things they find sinful by the Religious Right is foolish, short-sighted and an attempt at a fascistic power-grab.

America is great because we have consistently strived for more secular government and resisted the temptation of Christofacism.

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