This post contains commentary on an issue raised at another of the blogs on this network. The topic material involves pedophiles and first amendment rights, and is not suitable for all audiences. I know for a fact that it makes me feel pretty damn uncomfortable.
A couple of days ago, Shelley Batts put up a post discussing Barack Obama’s attempts to take legal action against a self-professed pedophile who put a press release photo of Obama’s kids up on his website, along with commentary handicapping the 2008 presidential election based on the “cuteness” of the candidates underage daughters and granddaughters. If that wasn’t distasteful enough, a vocal proponent of “pedophile rights” has made an appearance in the comment thread of that post. Reading the comments associated with that post is enough to make me want to go grab a shower, but some – not much, but some – of the issues raised there are somewhat thought provoking.
First of all, there’s the original issue – the pedophile who was handicapping the race based on how “cute” he thinks the underage children are, and whether that commentary is protected by the First Amendment. As distasteful as I find the speaker, I have to admit that the speech itself is protected. Like it or not (and I personally vote for “not”), the image that a candidate projects receives a huge amount of attention during a campaign. Family, for better or worse (and I’m voting for “worse”), has become part of the whole image thing. The physical appearance of a candidate’s children has, unfortunately, been a factor in at least one recent presidential election – in 2000, McCain’s dark-skinned adopted daughter, coupled with some campaign tactics that set new records for slime, had a major effect on the South Carolina primary. Had the source of these comments been anyone other than an admitted pedophile, and had the word “cute” (with its associated sexual connotations given the source) not come into play, I don’t think there would be any doubt about the legitimacy of a discussion about the effect of the family portrait on a campaign. (There would be entirely legitimate doubts about whether such a discussion was in good taste or acceptable and what it says about where we’ve descended to politically, but that’s another issue.)
The second issue is what, given that the pervert does have the right to free speech, Obama’s attempt to get the material censored says about his own commitment to First Amendment rights. Some people, at least according to the article about the incident, seem to think that Obama was out of line, and that his conduct should be considered when picking a candidate:
No matter how distasteful the content of the website, Walters and Jonathan Katz, another First Amendment lawyer, were surprised that the Obama campaign had threatened legal action in this case.
“If Obama knows that his lawyer is doing this, then that’s one reason not to vote for him,” Katz said. “These are clear free speech issues.”
Well, this is a clear free speech issue, but I don’t think it is at all reasonable to hold Obama’s conduct against him on this one. I consider myself to be a very strong free speech proponent. (If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this now.) In this particular case, though, it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to be a level-headed, reasonable free-speech advocate than it is for Obama – I’m not the one who has a twisted pervert calling my prepubescent daughter “cute” on a public website. Were I in Obama’s shoes, I doubt that I’d be anywhere near this reasonable. It would be nice if Obama were better at controlling his emotional reaction to the situation than I would be, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect that of him.
Which leads me neatly to my third point: this is why it’s a good thing that our political system has checks and balances, and why it’s a good thing that we have non-governmental groups like the ACLU there to stand up for the rights of even twisted perverts. It’s the strength and power of a constitutional system of government – everyone, twisted and perverted pedophiles included, has basic rights. No one person can take those rights away, and when a person or group of people try to restrict the rights of even the most justly unpopular people, there are all kinds of barriers there to keep that from happening.
Those three points were, believe it or not, the easy part of this post – because now we come to Sam.
“Sam” is the name that is being used by someone, allegedly a member of our species, who is commenting over at Shelley’s blog. Sam is, apparently, a pedophile. He has taken to comparing the treatment of pedophiles to the treatment of jews and African-Americans. He claims that, “[t]his Child and Pedophile Liberation Front IS going to be the next big wave in civil rights.” He seems to believe that Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan contain pedophiliac elements. He views Lolita as, “one of the greatest celebrations of pedophilic aesthetic.” He wrote, in one of the comments that, “the intimacy between and child and his or her pedophile is ONLY beneficial, is only good for both the child and the pedophile, and it is ONLY good for society. He calls the refusal to allow children under 12 to consent to sexual activity “inhuman.” He makes me uncomfortable to the point of actual nausea, and makes me feel contaminated simply as a result of reading the vile, vile things that he writes. And, despite all of that, Sam still does have rights.
Among those rights is the right to hold those godawful positions. The right to try to persuade others that his views should be considered is another of his rights. He even has the right to lobby to have those age of consent laws that he hates (and that the majority of us are eternally grateful for) revoked. What he does not have – Thank Goodness! – is the right to actually do the things that he would like to do to children, or to plan to do those things, or to try to get others to do them.
We would, of course, have to be absolutely insane to consider actually changing any of the sexual consent laws. We would be equally insane if we considered pedophilia to be an acceptable variant of human sexuality, much less right in any sense of the word. Children, especially those under 12, are not usually mature in any sense of the word – sexual, emotional, or intellectual. They are not qualified to consent to sexual activity, and sexual contact between an adult and a child is considered, with very good reason, to be done to, not with, the child. It is, of course, understandable that people like Sam would want to change society’s perspective on this. Nobody wants to think that his or her sexual desires are wrong, or harmful to others. They are, of course, and society should not accept those desires as normal or acceptable. If Sam, or anyone else, were to act on those desires, he or she should face extremely severe consequences.
Finally, and this fits in under the heading of “rights that Sam (and others like him) don’t have,” we come to the topic of pedophiles, freedom of the press, and my press. I have a certain degree of admiration for Shelley’s willingness to allow Sam’s comments to remain on her blog. If nothing else, having material like that posted in a public place serves as a valuable reminder of just how twisted pedophile’s beliefs can be, and why it is so important to protect children from them. I am not sure if I am going to follow her lead in this or not, so it might be a good idea if I clearly state my policy on comments right now.
Sam and other twisted perverts do have the same right to freedom of the press that is enjoyed by every other American citizen. Freedom of the press does not, however, mean the same thing as freedom to my press. If you want to be certain that whatever you write gets presented to others, you will have to go get your own press. Although I will not change the wording of any comment that is left, I do reserve the right to moderate, block, remove, truncate, or disemvowel comments for any or no reason.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an irresistible urge to go and wash. Several times.