Sometimes the best of intentions can lead to disastrous consequences.
That’s hardly an original thought on my part, but it bares repeating. Especially in light of a piece of legislation that was just reviewed earlier this week — and fortunately tossed-out — in the Arizona Legislature.
Claiming that the bill, HB2660, entailed “too many unanswered questions,” members of a state legislative panel on Monday abandoned the proposed law that would make companies financially liable for creating or distributing books, movies and other media that eventually led to a “serious crime.”
State Rep. Ward Nichols, R-Gilbert, the sponsor of the bill, said that his intent with this legislation was to punish those who publish, produce or disseminate pornographic materials that depict an “actual rape.” On the surface that seems like a noble ambition; who among us really believes that “actual rape” is a good thing?
Yet, all Americans should be troubled by this proposal, and other proposals like it, for a variety of reasons.
For one thing, “actual rape” is already illegal, and people who are convicted of “actual rape” face actual penalties. To try to project liability onto a company that produced pornographic material that allegedly led to an “actual rape” is — whether intentional or not — to diminish the moral imperative reality of personal responsibility.
However gruesome or horrid published material may be, a rapist is still responsible for his choices. To claim that published material “led” to a rape, is kind of like saying “the devil made me do it” — only in this hypothetical scenario, the “devil” is a material, earthly entity, likely with bank accounts.
And rape is brought about by rapists. Not publishers, actors, writers or Web masters.
Something else that should concern all Americans is the ambiguous notion of “pornographic materials.” What is “pornographic material,” anyway?
How about this:
“… If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then bring them both out to the gate of that city and stone them to death; the girl because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife …”
Is this an example of pornographic material? It’s from the book of Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament of the Bible. Does it “depict” a rape? It certainly references the existence of a rape. Could it be blamed for having “led” to an “actual rape?”
Or how about this:
“… and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon … And he sent messengers, and then took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; And the woman conceived ….”
That’s from the Bible, as well. It’s a portion of the famous story of King David and Bathsheba, in the book of II Samuel. Could one believe this material to have “led” to an “actual rape?”
Some might think I’m being outrageous. Have you ever heard of court cases — or worse yet, court decisions — that were “outrageous?”
And wouldn’t this material make a great basis for an “outrageous” court case against, let’s say, Thomas Nelson Publishers Inc., the publicly traded (and world’s largest) publisher of Bibles?
And speaking of “unanswered questions” (as members of the Legislature did this week), I have a couple of my own.
First, why was it that the most vocal opponent of this bill was Wendy Briggs, a lobbyist for the movie, music, and video-game industries? This bill could have adversely affected all Arizonans, not merely those of us who earn a living with movies, music and video games.
And second, why is it that, at this point in our nation’s history, so many “social conservatives” are so eager to expand the scope of governmental power?
Think about it: many among us would like to use governmental power, both at the state and federal levels, to ban pornography. Yet the United States Supreme Court can’t even define “pornography” or “obscenity” (“I know it when I see it” is about the closest that the court has arrived at, this thanks to Justice Potter Stewart).
Likewise, many social conservatives who wish for the government to ban abortions fail to recognize that it is our government, the U.S. federal government, that sanctioned abortion in the first place.
It’s time to begin trusting in our neighbors, our culture, and the transformative power of our values, and to develop a healthy dose of skepticism (as our nation’s founders taught us) about the power of law, and government.
And beware the unintended consequences.