WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Four members of Congress have requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) use obscenity laws already on the books to prosecute major pornography producers and distributors.
In a letter to the DOJ, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Brian Babin (R-Tex.) all warned that an "explosion in pornography" is fueling violence against women, human trafficking and child pornography.
"Anyone connected to the Internet," said Rep. Banks, "including children, has on-demand access to billions of photos and videos of people having sex or committing other lewd acts."
The letter made clear that the prevalence of pornography in society has consequences, and that obscenity laws already on the books forbid obscenity online, on television, at motels and through retail sales. The laws, the letter claims, just need to be enforced.
"Given the pervasiveness of obscenity," the letter stated, "it's our recommendation that you declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority and urge your U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material."
Legal precedent in the United States distinguishes between obscenity and pornography, as well as between adults and children. While the First Amendment protects free speech and expression, this does not extend to obscenity and child pornography.
Child pornography is any depiction of children, with real or animated images, in actual or simulated sexual activity. This is not protected under the First Amendment and is forbidden in every state.
Obscenity laws have had a more complex history and have been more difficult to legislate. Pornography refers to material dealing with sex, designed to arouse its readers or viewers, but not all pornography is obscenity, according to constitutional law.
Virtually every court dealing with obscenity has resigned itself to offering subjective meanings. Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 could not provide a definition in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Instead, he exclaimed his now-famous words: "I know it when I see it." In that decision, Stewart said the Court was being "faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable."
In Miller v. Connecticut (1973), the High Court laid out basic guidelines for considering obscenity:
Despite this narrowed focus, identifying enforceable obscenity violations still requires case-by-case analysis. The legal meaning of "prurient interest" has been defined as "a morbid, degrading and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex."
However, what is deemed prurient under "contemporary community standards" can differ by community as well as change over time. The laws of each state determine what is deemed "patently offensive."
Terms like "morbid, degrading, and unhealthy" interest, as well as "patently offensive," have been recognized by the courts as having no objective meaning grounded in Natural Law. This fluidity keeps state legislatures and courts in flux, and instead of focusing on human dignity and the objective common good, decisions are based on current popular opinion and the will of those currently in power.
Section 2354 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense.
It is here that the Catechism publicly recognizes the responsibility of government under the principle of subsidiarity. The Catechism continues: "Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials."
The Catholic Church makes no distinction between pornography and obscenity in its moral doctrine. The word "pornography" originates from the Greek porneia, referring to prostitution and sexual activity outside of its good, intended meaning vis-à-vis human nature as designed by the Creator.
Pornography has been declared a "public health crisis" by 15 state legislatures. President Trump, as a 2016 presidential candidate, signed the Children's Internet Safety Presidential Pledge to prioritize enforcement of obscenity and anti-child pornography laws.