Last month, we at The Daily Wire played a leading role in instigating and amplifying a national debate within the conservative movement about the role of government in combating our online pornography public health crisis. We also extrapolated that particular debate to a broader discussion over the fundamental purpose of government.
Now, The Daily Wire has procured an exclusive copy of a letter that is being sent today to Attorney General William Barr from Robert P. George, the iconic McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. George, who has taught at Princeton since 1985 and has mentored countless influential conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has been described by The New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” He is a longtime social conservative luminary who has consistently taken a leading role in the fight against the pernicious dissemination and proliferation of pornography. The American Principles Project, a conservative think tank George helped found, has also taken a leading role in this battle.
“I am writing to request clarification regarding current DOJ policy for the enforcement of existing obscenity laws — specifically 18 U.S.C. § 1460–1470 — and to inquire whether DOJ considers these statutes applicable to online pornography,” the letter begins.
“As everyone knows, the online pornography industry has exploded,” George writes. “There has been a dramatic rise in illegal pornography production and distribution. Hotels, cable and TV companies, and Internet pornography distributors regularly sell pornography featuring horrific themes such as the rape of teenagers, incest, sexual assault, sex trafficking and slavery, suffocation, bondage, and even cartoon pornography targeted at minor children. … A 13-year-old with a smartphone now has unlimited access to his own personal theatre of sexual horrors.”
“Extensive evidence demonstrates severe harm caused to children and youth exposed to pornography; increasingly, studies find harm is caused to adults as well,” the letter continues. “Recent research indicates that pornography is potentially biologically addictive, which means the user requires more novelty, often in the form of more shocking material, in order to be satisfied.”
The letter concludes by requesting the Department of Justice (DOJ) for clarification on four items: (1) how DOJ defines “obscenity”; (2) what categories of online pornography might fit the definition of “obscenity”; (3) whether DOJ believes online pornography is subject to regulation under 18 U.S.C. § 1460-1470; and (4) what efforts DOJ has taken, in this administration, to prosecute violators of extant federal obscenity statutes.
George also spoke with The Daily Wire over phone to elaborate upon why such a missive to the attorney general is urgently needed, at the present time. In addition to the obvious moral and public health aspects, George expanded upon how the issue, for him, has always been intertwined with the fight against human trafficking.
“The rise of online pornography for children — even young children — has made this issue resurgent again,” George explained. “Addiction and sexual addiction connected to pornography has contributed to this. People know about it — people who are married to addicts.”
“One additional piece of the puzzle: We have become much more cognizant, over the past decade or two decades, with the way the porn industry has become intertwined with sexual enslavement,” he continued. “You put those things together and you can see why the issue has come back — and come back with an urgency. The moral issues remain, but the public health dimensions and our sensitivity to sexual exploitation has increased. And the #MeToo movement has helped here.”‘
“Pornography has always been there — at Pompeii, it was on the walls,” George said. “But it’s the widespread online dissemination of it … and [Playboy founder] Hugh Hefner’s mainstream-ing of pornography — treating unclothed women as harmless naughtiness as opposed to something that is a genuine moral issue. The harm Hefner did is incalculable.”
George explained how the political and legal dynamics of this fight evolved following Hefner’s 1953 launch of Playboy.
“What we used to call liberals and what we now call progressives bought into Hefner’s ‘harmless naughtiness’ ideology within a decade or so — not everyone, but it became the dominant position. To be liberal came to mean to be hip — to understand sex as a form of recreation rather than what it had been understood in Judeo-Christian culture prior to that.”
“The Supreme Court rulings of the liberal justices are a mirror of what was going on in the liberal movement, at the time,” he expounded. “Justices William Douglas, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall — their arguments about pornography were an indicator of the direction that the movement was heading in.”
To be sure, many doctrinaire libertarians tend to oppose pornography regulation on purported “free speech” grounds.
“Social conservatives need to realize that we can handle pornography and other social ills without turning America into a Christian version of Saudi Arabia,” Casey Given wrote last month at the Washington Examiner. “Emboldened conservatives are trying to use the Trump moment to steer the GOP firmly away from its commitments to individual liberty,” Reason’s Matt Welch recently opined at the Los Angeles Times.
George was having none of it.
“This is not speech of any type; it’s not expressing a viewpoint,” the Ivy League professor stated. “Whatever may be going on there, it’s not speech, much less constitutionally protected free speech. The kind of imagery we’re discussing here is not expressing any kind of viewpoint; it’s a pure appeal to a prurient interest. Additionally, it is simply no longer plausible — in fact, it is risible — to suppose that pornography does not cause public harm. … It is a public health and a public safety and a public morality issue.”
“The goal of government is to protect health, safety, and morals, along with the common good — certainly in conjunction with protecting individual rights,” George concluded. “There are social interests here that need to be balanced and I’m usually happy to err on the side of freedom, but for the vast amount of pornography, we’re just not talking about materials that are legally protected.”
Attorney General Barr has certainly distinguished himself, already, with a willingness to call out the profound societal ills of progressive secularism run amok. The ball is now in his court to substantively address one prominent ill via robust enforcement of already on-the-books federal statutes.