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My view: Enforce federal laws on obscenity

By Sen. Orrin Hatch

Published: Thursday, April 7 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Our country faces many threats today, and failing to take any of them seriously will mean great harm to our families and our values. Pornography is like a cancer in our society. It is spreading and is more harmful than ever, even here in Utah.

Sexually explicit material comes in many degrees and forms, but the worst type of this material fits within the Supreme Court's definition of "obscenity." I believe that there are three things that everyone needs to know about obscenity.

First, obscenity is toxic. Like other forms of toxic waste, obscenity harms everyone it touches, including individuals, families and communities. Its content is steadily degrading, typified today by extreme violence against women. The American Psychiatric Association has recently added to its diagnostic manual a condition called Hypersexual Disorder, which includes both sexual and pornography addiction. Continuing research shows alarming links between obscenity and other plagues such as child pornography, domestic violence and sex trafficking. Obscenity is not simply immoral or distasteful, it is increasingly harmful.

Second, obscenity is illegal. It is not protected at all by the First Amendment, which means that state and federal governments can ban its production and distribution. Protecting the robust freedom of speech that our Constitution affords requires clearly identifying the so-called expression that is excluded from that freedom. We must make the purveyors of obscenity pariahs in the marketplace of ideas.

Third, the laws against obscenity are not being enforced. My colleagues in Congress and I have worked hard to craft legislation that not only will attack the problem but will withstand the inevitable legal challenges brought by the porn industry. But laws left unenforced cannot protect families or society. At the federal level, both Republican and Democratic administrations have simply failed to investigate and prosecute obscenity. Only 15 cases have been initiated in the last five years, and none at all since President Barack Obama was elected. In 2007, the Bush administration created the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force as a separate unit within the Justice Department to focus specifically on adult obscenity cases, while another unit addresses child pornography. The only development in this area during President Obama's administration has been the dismantling of this important task force.

I have raised this issue in confirmation and oversight hearings for Justice Department officials of both political parties. This week, joined by a bipartisan group of 41 other Senators, I sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding enforcement of federal obscenity laws and I intend to raise this with him again when he next comes before the Judiciary Committee.

Obscenity is an assault on our culture, and the problem is only getting worse. Those charged with enforcing the obscenity laws must stop fiddling, or society will continue burning.

Orrin Hatch, a Republican, is Utah's senior senator.

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