Antipornography groups around the country banded together last month to proclaim the first week of November Pornography Awareness Week. After two years of victories that included a tough Justice Department report on pornography, a new federal task force on obscenity, and new congressional legislation, many in the antipornography movement fear that momentum for their cause may be lagging, particularly on official levels.

Some of that concern surfaced at the third annual meeting of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP) held in Washington, D.C., just prior to the kick-off of Pornography Awareness Week. Representing Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, Jewish, and Mormon constituencies totaling 100 million, RAAP is arguably the nation’s broadest-based religious coalition. Its leaders had hoped for a personal meeting with President George Bush. That did not take place, although Bush sent a videotaped greeting, as did Pope John Paul II.

The White House did set up a briefing for the group; it was there that RAAP members expressed some frustration over Bush’s failure to speak out on the issue since his election. During the presidential campaign, Bush affirmed his opposition to pornography.

“Those of us on the front lines in this battle need a statement from the President,” one woman said at the White House briefing.

“It’s time for him to speak out and lead us,” said RAAP chairman Jerry Kirk. “We don’t see any hypocrisy or hidden stuff here, but the time is now, and we need his help.”

Doug Wead, special assistant to the President for public liaison, replied, “We’ll make sure that [the President and his advisers] hear this.”

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh appeared before the group and pledged that the Justice Department and its attorneys will vigorously prosecute child pornography and illegal obscenity. He announced he is instructing each U.S. attorney’s office around the country to retain a specialist on pornography prosecution. “If you will let in the light,” Thornburgh told the religious leaders, “we will bring in the law.”

Pat Trueman, director of the Justice Department’s National Obscenity Enforcement Unit, said the task force has received “all the support we need” from top officials. “I think we have a winning strategy,” he said. “We haven’t won yet, but I think this is the beginning of the end.”

Some RAAP representatives were disappointed the attorney general did not announce further policy initiatives, but RAAP officials are refraining from public criticism of government leaders. Noting that the RAAP executive committee has met with Thornburgh and communicated with the President, Kirk told a Washington press conference following the attorney general’s speech that the group remains “very hopeful” about the administration’s support of the fight.

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In a “call to action” issued at the end of the meeting, RAAP outlined its priorities:

• That denominations, churches, synagogues, and other religious groups publicly denounce child pornography and illegal obscenity.

• That the President declare the battle against pornography a priority of the administration and support new legislation aimed at the fight.

• That the attorney general continue making prosecution of pornography a priority of the Justice Department and that he appoint a new U.S. attorney in Los Angeles who is committed to prosecuting pornography.

• That all Americans urge officials to enforce existing laws.

• That all national and international church leaders join the battle.

RAAP acknowledged that while government participation is crucial, it alone will not defeat pornography. Conference keynote speaker Charles Colson reminded the group that it is the responsibility of people of faith to speak out against evil.

“If we’re going to stop obscenity, … [we have to go beyond] just enforcing the laws, important as that is, by seeking a different value system in our society,” Colson said. “We’ve got to present an alternative moral vision of love to a world that is so filled with anger and hatred and jealousy.”

Court Hears Child Porn Case

The U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled last week to hear arguments in Osborne v. Ohio, a case that will look at the constitutionality of an Ohio law prohibiting the possession of child pornography. Opponents argue that the law violates First Amendment free-speech rights, and that, in many cases, it may be difficult for owners of sexually explicit materials to ascertain the ages of those depicted.

Advocates of the law, however, say child pornography is not protected by free speech. In a brief filed on behalf of antipornography groups, attorneys Rob Showers and Mark Troobnick wrote that the Ohio law “is paramount to curtail the harm to children, to break the cycle of child sexual victimization and to dry up the market for child pornography.”

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the law, ruling that “the compelling state interest of preserving its children’s privacy and protecting them from the cruel physiological, mental and emotional abuse caused by sexual seduction, exploitation and mistreatment … outweigh the [possible minimal] interest in possessing such visual depictions.”

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Fetal Tissue Ban Extended

The Bush administration has extended a ban on the use of fetal tissue from intentionally aborted babies for federally funded medical research. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Louis Sullivan said in a letter to the acting director of the National Institutes of Health that he was concerned that lifting the March 1988 ban would “increase the incidence of abortion across the country.”

An HHS task force had recommended that the research be allowed. Some scientists believe fetal issue could be used to treat Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. The National Right to Life Committee called Sullivan’s move “a major victory for those who defend the unborn child’s right to life.”


Fundamentalist Journal Folds

The December issue of Jerry Falwell’s Fundamentalist Journal will be its last, ministry officials announced last month. Administrative assistant Mark DeMoss said the magazine was not contributing enough toward the ministry’s goal of world evangelization and was not profitable. Begun in 1982, the monthly magazine had a total circulation of about 70,000. The “Old-Time Gospel Hour” has made several financial cutbacks in the past year, including the elimination of 500 jobs and the offer to sell its headquarters.


Antiporn Racketeers?

Playboy and Penthouse magazines, as well as Waldenbooks, have filed extortion and racketeering charges against the Florida chapter of the American Family Association (AFA). The lawsuit, brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), charges that the organization “maliciously persisted” in attempts to “coerce plaintiffs … and others from purchasing, selling or distributing magazines denominated sexually explicit by them.”

The Florida chapter of AFA has used pickets and boycott threats to get some 1,400 stores to stop selling the magazines, the suit contends. Said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which is defending the AFA, “The expansion of the use of RICO against free expression activities is extremely dangerous to the future of free speech, and is censorship at its worst.”


Failed Referendum

Voters in San Francisco last month narrowly rejected the “domestic partners” referendum, which proposed giving to unwed partners, including homosexuals, legal benefits enjoyed by married couples (CT, Oct. 20, p. 44). The measure was defeated by fewer than 2,000 votes out of 167,000 ballots cast. Opponents, which included the city’s Catholic and evangelical communities, were pleased, while proponents vowed not to give up.

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In another development related to homosexuality, the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has accepted a preliminary report from a study commission that encourages the blessing of same-sex relationships. The report will be discussed by parishes within the diocese with an eye toward possible adoption next year.

Also, Saint Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco recently announced it will call a lesbian couple as copastors. Saint Francis is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), whose standards preclude the ordination of homosexuals. Joseph M. Wagner, executive director of the ELCA’s division for ministry, said that by its action the congregation “has departed from the established calling process for candidates and pastors.” He called the action a “matter of serious concern.”


Surprise, Surprise

What U.S. city ranks highest in religious television viewership? Washington, D.C., according to research done by Stephen Winzenburg of Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa. And Salt Lake City, Utah, according to his findings, is last. In disclosing his theory to the Religious News Service, Winzenburg said that “the more ‘religious’ the town, the less people watch religious TV.”

It appears that fewer overall are watching religious television. Nielson and Arbitron ratings indicate that major TV preachers have lost 30 percent of their audiences since 1987. Robert Schuller is at the top of the list, tuned in by 1.24 million households in 151 markets.


Briefly Noted

Upheld: By the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, Reagan administration regulations forbidding federally funded family-planning clinics from promoting abortion as an option for birth control. The controversial regulations are being fought out in several courts.

Appointed: By President Bush, prolife pediatrician Antonia Novello to succeed C. Everett Koop as U.S. Surgeon General.

Closed: For an indefinite period of time, Heritage USA. Business at the hotel and theme park has been hurt not only by the uncertainty over who will be the new owner, but also by damage from Hurricane Hugo.

Changed: The name of CBN University to Regent University in order to reflect the school’s broadened base. A spokesman said the new name symbolizes the school’s mission of representing God around the world.

Scheduled: For January 3–7 in San Diego, the 50th anniversary celebration of Young Life, a Christian ministry to adolescents, founded in 1940 by Jim Rayburn.

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