Carolyn Moynihan

Protecting children from porn

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan
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June 4, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - How serious is the problem of pornography on the internet? Important enough to be the central issue in a rally drawing more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews to a New York baseball stadium two weekends ago. The men (it was too difficult to segregate the women, as Haredi laws require), all dressed in black suits and white shirts, filled the benches to hear pep talks about the dangers and temptations of the internet, with exhortations to use it sparingly, and then, only with effective filters.

“We’ve been retreating for years—enough! Tonight we draw a line of demarcation in the sand, tonight we begin to fight back!” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman in his opening “powerhouse” speech, as reported by a (sceptical, Jewish) Tablet magazine. “If one sins on the Internet, he commits an aveira [sin]; if one separates from the community [by not installing a filter], he loses his share in olam haba [the world to come]!”

Next to this show of numbers and moral fervour the report of a group of British members of parliament about the protection of children online might seem rather tame. But it has generated its own kind of drama as advocates of stronger protective measures and anti-censorship forces argue over proposals to force (if necessary) internet service providers to filter content for porn before it goes out to subscribers. You could probably fill several football stadiums with Britons who are worried about the risks of the internet for their children—if only they had rabbis to tell them, under pain of eternal retribution, to come.

Except for child abuse imagery—which the UK internet industry has agreed to block since 1996—British leaders in general, unlike the Jews at the New York event, do not attempt to deal with pornography as such. But there is enough community and expert concern about the effect of porn and other sexual material on children for David Cameron’s government to treat it as a political issue. One of his Conservative MPs, Claire Perry, chaired the cross-party group that produced last month the report of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection. Its opening comments are worth quoting:

Since the early days of the World Wide Web, pornography has been one of the most widely available forms of internet content. Freedom from prying eyes, human imagination and zero barriers to entry have led to an explosion of pornographic creativity with every possible sexual act represented online including many that are deeply degrading, disturbing and violent. It is said that the whole history of human perversion is only a few clicks away. Unfortunately, our children, with their natural curiosity and superior technological skills are finding a viewing these images.

The group’s main finding is that the “opt out” filter systems for individual computers and devices such as tablets currently offered by Internet Service Providers benefit less than half of children in the UK. Consequently ISPs need to offer network level filtering whereby adult content will be blocked until customers “opt in”, a move that is not nearly as difficult as the industry makes out.

At present, six out of ten children in the UK can access the internet without device-level filters, and use of filters has actually declined 10 percentage points over the past three years. Parents are often less computer and internet savvy than their kids and they feel powerless in the face of rapid innovation. Many also surrender their power: in 2010, 61 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds had access to the internet in their own rooms. Mobile phones could be playing a larger role in this, although the large phone companies mostly require age (18) verification to access porn.

Opting in has already been accepted in principle by the largest ISPs in Britain in the form of a system called Active Choice, to be rolled out by October this year. But this applies only to new customers and the companies are loath to extend it to their existing clients, even though higher level filtering is already standard in many commercial settings, schools and public Wi-Fi hubs, and the technology behind it is well advanced. The industry resistance to default blocking, says the Perry report, seems to be “ideological, not commercial”.

The ideology in question concerns free speech. The report itself begins by affirming the “core principles—almost religious tenets—of decentralisation and freedom” that underpin the internet and says it “would be anathema to see these principles compromised”. It says it would be “difficult and wrong to impose mandatory government censorship” of internet porn, but a network level opt-in system maintained by ISPs would preserve choice while giving children more protection.

To opponents—captains of the porn industry and cable TV companies included—it is still censorship. They don’t see why they should be responsible for anyone else’s children. In fact the great theme of those opposed to default filtering or ambivalent about it is the responsibility of parents. Reading their views it’s as though they have made a revolutionary discovery: children have parents who should be protecting them! Parents need to be educated about their role in this!

This is true, of course. Parents should make it their business to get the hang of filters, and go to the school information evenings about it if necessary; they should insist that there are no electronic devices in kids’ bedrooms; parents should bring up their children to have confidence in them so they can talk about bad stuff they run into; they should talk to their children about sex and prepare them, somehow, to keep their innocence in a pornified world…

And if sewage is getting into the town water supply they should ensure that they have an effective water filtering system in the house, because protecting their children’s physical health is all their job too. Isn’t it? If not, if it’s only reasonable that the town fix the water supply at source, why should the rules be so different when it comes to the mental health of children?

Furthermore, not everyone who wants to help parents deal with the problem of internet porn will be equally helpful. A record of oral evidence in the Perry report reveals an attitude among some that porn is a “rite of passage” for adolescents and that keeping them away from it only makes it more desirable. What kids need, to quote the lady from the Family Planning Association, is to have someone “contextualise” it for them—which seems to mean explaining how certain images and behaviour belong on porn sites or page 3 of the tabloids but not in real life—as part of “good quality sex and relationships education”. Somehow, one is not convinced.

Unfortunately, the anti-blockers don’t have to convince everybody; they only have to put up an argument backed by some kind of research that will give authorities an excuse to put the issue of protecting children aside. Crossing the Atlantic, we find dana boyd, described in a recent Slate article as an “academic and Microsoft researcher” (who writes her name without capitals) dismissing fears about kids and porn as a “moral panic”. She also believes that teenagers are not necessarily harmed by encountering porn; it all depends on the youngster and how well they have been prepared to deal with it. “The kids are all right,” she insists.

The research: She studied young adolescents involved in Chatroullet, a webcam conversation launched in 2009 where people talk to random strangers around the world. She reckons that when the teens did come across a flabby, bald middle-aged man … performing sexual acts their response was “Ew,” and they clicked past him. “It was the best abstinence-only education you can think of,” she joked to the interviewer. Uh, and how is this comparable to teens watching a hardcore porn film for hours on end?

Boyd (sorry, Microsoft just capitalised that) is right that young people need to be prepared to deal with porn if they run into it; she is even correct, as reported, that a parent needs “to create the kid who can handle the internet without you” and that “they can’t become that kid if you are watching them all the time” (as if any parent did). But by “dealing with porn” she does not mean running straight away from it. No, she means looking at it critically and “interrogating” it—“contextualising” it, perhaps. And her alternative to not being hovered over all the time by an anxious parent is for that parent to let them roam totally free on the net, free to take calculated risks with the content they encounter. This approach severely underestimates the power of imagery to stay in the mind and the well-documented addictiveness of porn. It also grossly overestimates the ability of the adolescent to manage “risk” and to resist the sexual drive when strong temptation and privacy are combined.

This week a 14-year-old boy appeared in the High Court in Edinburgh charged with raping and sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl when he was only 12. His defence counsel said the boy at that age already had unfettered access to the internet and copied something he saw in a porn film. Pornography was discussed by first year students at secondary school, said the lawyer. “There is a real risk that young people of the current generation of teenagers are growing up with a skewed view of what sex is and sexual activity.”

It’s a tragic episode that makes the fulminations of the rabbis at Queens’ Citi Field against the internet begin to sound reasonable. As for the network filtering recommended by the British MPs, that is the least a society that calls itself civilised can do.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted with permission from Mercatornet under a Creative Commons license.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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