Copyright © 2008 Henrietta W. Hay
Censorship and the Internet
May 2, 2008
As a life long civil libertarian, my files and my brain are overflowing with material I have acquired over years of battles against attempted censorship.
From the beginning of recorded history some people have been trying to impose their individual values on what others can think and say.
The writings of Homer and Aristophanes were suppressed in Greece in the 4th century. Socrates drank the hemlock because he was accused of "corrupting the young with ideas of freedom." Dante's Divine comedy was publicly burned in Italy and Galileo was forced to recant on his knees the thesis that the planets circulate around the sun. (Rumor has it that he whispered, Yes it does," under his breath!)"
The 55 men who sat down together in the City of Brotherly Love to construct a new nation thought they could make it different here. Each one of them had deeply held ideas of how a new baby country should be run but they shared one thing -- a vision of freedom from oppression.
After much shouting and arguing and compromising, these highly disparate forefathers of ours came up with a set of rules, called the Constitution of the United States. They realized that it was not going to work unless "certain unalienable rights" were protected, so they added a Bill of Rights. One of those guaranteed that, "The Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the freedom of speech."
Because of their wisdom and good common sense, we have in this country the legal freedom to explore ideas and speak as we choose. They had the vision to see that the United States would become a nation of diverse peoples with different ideas and beliefs.
Intellectual Freedom is the wonderful gift these men gave to future generations of Americans. But through the years we have often tried to destroy it. We still have people trying to impose their individual values and ideas on the rest of us. They believe that they alone should have the right of free speech. They are the Censors. Censorship destroys the freedom of the mind.
Much censorship over the years has been of books, including everything from the Bible to Little Red Riding Hood. But now another form of expression is causing a new censorship battle.
It is taking place on the Internet, that wonderful electronic tool which allows us to communicate all over the world.
But as with every means of communication through the ages, some people have gone "too far" and aroused the Censors.
Congress started efforts to control it in 1996 with passage of the Communications Decency Act, which would have threatened nearly everyone who uses the Internet. Fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously declared it unconstitutional.
As the Internet has grown and expanded and people have discovered new uses, new problems have arisen. Pedophiles are using it to lure young victims. These things are, of course, extremely offensive. But let's fight the message, and not kill the messenger. Crimes are being committed with the help of the Web, but the Web is not the villain.
The responsibility for what we read rests on us. There are filters that can help parents control what their children see, but the only effective filter for children is their parents.
Do we censor the Internet? No. Do we pass laws? What kind of laws? I wonder what Thomas Jefferson would have done. I think he would have agreed with Justice Douglas who said, "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."