A new campaign kicks off in Memphis.
Larry Parrish of Memphis, Tennessee, dedicated most of his time as U.S. attorney to prosecuting violators of federal pornography laws. From 1972 to 1976, he prosecuted 60 defendants. Because of the connection between organized crime and pornography, and because of the shady business dealings of many of the peddlers, the FBI and the IRS joined in. Before it was over, Parrish and his staff had compiled nearly 20,000 pages of evidence.
But his steadfastness went largely for naught. Though 59 of the 60 he prosecuted were convicted, Parrish was crushed by the light sentences they received. One of the prime movers of the film Deep Throat, for example, who was also involved in organized crime, was sentenced by a federal judge to nine months in prison and a $15,000 fine. Most of the other sentences were similar—the longest jail term was only 18 months.
It was Parrish’s growing awareness of the government’s message on the pornography issue—which, he says is, “We don’t care”—that led to his resignation in 1977. But today, the Religious Roundtable, a conservative organization with chapters in all 50 states, and the New York City-based Morality in Media (MIM), are trumpeting a different message. They believe people are concerned about America’s pornography plague. They are trying to take that message to the president of the United States.
Late in January, the two groups cosponsored a banquet in Memphis to kick off a national campaign against pornography. The master of ceremonies was the Roundtable’s effervescent president, Edward McAteer, a staunch Southern Baptist. McAteer, perhaps more than any other person, is responsible for the marriage between politics and the Religious Right. He has been to the White House on various occasions to meet with top Reagan administration figures on the pornography issue.
The main speaker in Memphis was MIM’s president, Morton Hill, a Jesuit priest who has been crusading against pornography for more than 20 years. Like McAteer, Hill is no stranger to the White House. He was appointed by Lyndon Johnson to the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, and he coauthored its Hill-Link Report, which was cited several times by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark obscenity decisions of 1973, in which the court held that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment.
Other key speakers at the Memphis banquet were presidential liaison officer Morton Blackwell, Michigan Congressman Mark Siljander, and Adrian Rodgers, who is McAteer’s pastor and is former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. An overflow crowd of more than 1,500 attended.
Hill believes enough federal laws prohibiting the mailing, importation, and broadcasting of obscene matter are already in place. He claims that if these laws were enforced, the pornography epidemic in America would subside in less than two years.
In fiscal year 1981, for example, the Department of Justice reported only 18 convictions. An MIM report points out that the form letter used by the department to respond to inquiries into pornography is the same letter used by the Carter administration and that it uses “the same bureaucratic gibberish to slough off complaints.” The president of the Minnesota chapter of MIM was informed by the Justice Department that it will only respond to child pornography complaints. William Kelly, a retired FBI obscenity investigator, says there is only one FBI agent in the country working obscenity cases full-time.
“Pornography is the easiest of all society’s problems to solve,” Hill says. “And it’s up to the President to solve it. We want him to say publicly that the enforcement of existing laws is a matter of prime concern.”
According to former U.S. Attorney Parrish, now a Memphis lawyer, the Nixon administration was committed to the enforcement of obscenity laws. Parrish says the commitment waned during the Ford and Carter years because of the appointments of liberals to key positions, especially to the post of attorney general. Of current Attorney General William French Smith, Parrish says, “However nice a guy he is, he is not competent for the job. He has no criminal [law] training and the country-club social setting he comes from shields him from public opinion.”
Hill believes a large part of the problem lies with presidential aides James Baker and Michael Deaver, especially Deaver, who, Hill says, has “sworn an oath to keep ‘right-wing extremists’ away from the President.”
Hill was encouraged after he and several others, including Jerry Falwell, met with top administration officials last July. But according to Hill, little resulted from that meeting, and he has not tried to hide his growing disenchantment. At the Memphis banquet, where dissonance was not in vogue, Hill, nevertheless, challenged the accuracy of a statement delivered by the presidential liaison officer Blackwell. Blackwell said there had been an internal Justice Department memorandum sent, urging stronger enforcement of pornography laws. Hill maintained that, despite Blackwell’s remarks, the message is not getting to those who need to hear it. He cited the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Customs Agency, and the FBI. All of them, Hill said, have authority to report or to arrest violators.
Part of the new antipornography campaign focuses on legislation to halt the spread of pornography via cable television. In 1980, the Federal Communications Commission decided that cablecasting was not broadcasting and is therefore out of its jurisdiction. Thus, cable television is nearly unregulated.
Tennessee state legislator Chris Turner is now trying to push through legislation to make it a crime in his state for a cable television system to “knowingly distribute … any indecent material.” (This includes “distribution” over the airwaves.) Hill believes it would be much faster for someone like Michigan Congressman Siljander to work at placing cable television under the federal umbrella, rather than state by state.
When Siljander stepped behind the mike in Memphis, he proclaimed, “I’m all charged up and ready to go.” But after the banquet he told reporters that he was “not in any crusades” and that he had no plans to introduce antipornography legislation.
Most of those who turned out in Memphis opposed pornography on moral grounds. They say organized crime takes well over half the estimated $7 billion a year that the industry generates. They maintain that pornography is demeaning—former national Right to Life president, Mildred Faye Jefferson, believes that pornography, like abortion, is “part of a total movement to destroy the sanctity of life found in the Judeo-Christian ethic.”
Those who oppose pornography legislation argue that, while pornography may be morally wrong, to restrict an activity that does not willfully impinge on another’s freedom would set a dangerous precedent. The antipornography camp responds that porngraphy is hurting society. Yet, if all the activities deemed “bad” for society were outlawed, then smoking, drinking, violent movies, perhaps even football, would have to go. And who will decide?
Because indecency is a matter of interpretation, the legal strategy of the antipornography campaign subscribes to the “community standards” definition, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1978. It means that citizens in a local community decide for themselves what is indecent and what is not. The law works when it is applied by committed citizens and prosecutors (CT, Jan. 1, 1982, p. 53). Thomas Shipmon, a prominent Memphis dentist, summarized a fear that underlies the antipornography activity. “You begin to wonder,” Shipmon said, “if we even have the right to govern ourselves.”
RANDY FRAME in Memphis
Canadian Grad School Exempted From Diploma Mill Legislation
The Institute for Christian Studies (ICS), in Toronto, has won the right to grant nontheological degrees at the graduate level.
The granting of nontheological degrees is to be rigidly regulated by a bill that has been before the Ontario provincial legislature for two years. Its announced purpose is to prevent emergence of “degree mills,” but the bill also limits the granting of all degrees in arts or philosophy to existing provincially chartered colleges and universities. Although the ICS is not so chartered, it will be permitted to grant a degree which will be called the master of philosophical foundations.
The Institute for Christian Studies, which has a faculty of eight professors with earned and recognized doctoral degrees, had been offering the degree of master of philosophy (M. Phil.). The provincial government has resolutely opposed granting any exceptions to its prohibition and was insisting that any degree granted by ICS should have a theological designation—in spite of the fact that its interdisciplinary foundational studies include philosophy, aesthetics, history, political theory, and systematic and philosophical theology.
Academics from other universities and colleges made representations on behalf of the institute, and that pressure probably contributed to getting the concession from the government.
The respected Toronto school, which is not affiliated with any denomination but which has a Christian Reformed orientation, is confident that the new degree will earn the respect of other institutions.
Its content will be the same as that of the previous M. Phil, degree, which was usually accorded the same recognition by other institutions as a master of arts degree.
The institute has an enrollment of 51 students—half of whom come from Canada and the remainder from the United States and overseas. Six ICS graduates are enrolled in a doctor of philosophy program that the Toronto school offers in cooperation with Free University of Amsterdam.
LESLIE K. TARR
The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization is provisionally planning for another international congress on world evangelization before the end of this decade, plus three smaller consultations to precede it. The 50-member committee, chaired by evangelist Leighton Ford, met at San Bernardino, California, in January, and approved expanding its membership to 75.
Liberal Protestant denominations and Roman Catholics have filed a suit challenging President Reagan’s certification on human rights in El Salvador as false and issued in bad faith. The suit, filed in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles in January, was joined by the Unitarian Universalists, the Friends, and the Church of Christ, plus regional and local church bodies and ecumenical groupings. The suit avers that gross violations of human rights continue in El Salvador, and that military assistance should be halted since it directly contributes to the violations.
Latin evangelicals are sponsoring a theological consultation on social responsibility in September to include church leaders, social workers, and academic theologians. The event is being sponsored by CONELA, the Latin American Evangelical Confraternity formed last year, and will be coordinated by Emilio Antonio Núñez of Guatemala. Meeting in Bogotá, Colombia, in January, CONELA’s executive asked that the consultation analyze contemporary theories of social responsibility, differentiate between the responsibilities of individual Christians and churches as institutions, and develop practical recommendations for social involvement.
The movement to create an evangelical synod within the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden continues to pick up steam. A fifth free diaconate is being formed, this time by pastor Rolf Sällryd in the diocese of Växjö. “The Church of Sweden,” he says “is not now really that spiritual authority it should be, and because of that it cannot be of real help to people in need.” Sällryd adds, “There is a clear longing for renewal in the church, and if we do not provide for it, many church members will probably leave the Church of Sweden and join other churches.
Pope John Paul II made a significant change to the revised code of canon law before signing it in January. It was reported in this space last issue that the annual holy days of obligation had been reduced from 10 to 2. Actually, that change, worked out by the 74-member commission that drafted the code, was rejected by the Pope. This became apparent last month, a week after the signing, when the official Latin text became available to the public. Earlier the commission president, Archbishop Rosalio José Castillo Lara, had said that any changes by the Pope would be only of “a technical nature.”
A Nigerian mission agency has committed itself to establish a permanent witness among two unreached tribal groups within its borders. One couple has already volunteered to serve with the Evangelical Missionary Society among the 4,000-strong Koma tribe in eastern Nigeria along the Cameroon border. Others are being sought to work among the Bokos, who straddle the western border with Benin. Thirty thousand Bokos live on the Nigeria side. A recent visit to their area resulted in 50 conversions and a request by the chief for resident Christian workers.
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