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Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 1999 /28 Kislev, 5760

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'Nobody's values are wrong, unfit or too strict' -- A FEW WEEKS AGO, I commented on air about issues raised in an essay contest sponsored by the Connecticut attorney general's office on the topic of Internet censorship. The winner opposed Internet restrictions. I said on my program that I don't have a problem with the essay's conclusion, but that I disagreed with the philosophy expressed in the winning entry that "every person has a different set of moral values that they live by. Nobody's values are wrong, unfit or too strict."

The focus of my concern, indeed my only concern, was the endorsement of moral relativism by the sponsoring public institutions -- the teachers who teach kids that all values are equal, and the contest judges and a state attorney general who reward that point of view. Obviously kids who learn these lessons well and regurgitate them articulately are not the source of the problem.

I agree with the listener who faxed me about the contest that "the student who won the contest is only in the eighth grade and hopefully doesn't yet have a clue about the evil that can flourish in her ideal environment." But eventually kids who are taught this will grow up to be parents and teachers, and I worry about their passing on these dangerous distortions about the valuable concepts of freedom and tolerance to their children and students.

In sharing my opinions about this matter on my broadcast, I was attempting to demonstrate some of the consequences of believing that all morals and values are equal. I used the examples of marital infidelity, lawlessness and ancient Incan sacrifice to make points about the problems inherent in relativism and the societal need for a set of common values and consensus on questions of justice and morality.

It was not my intention to insult the contest winner, but rather to forcefully disparage and counter a point of view. I realize that the essay, regrettably, reflects the prevailing attitudes of our society today all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which the author cites as an authority.

I have also been taken to task by the attorney general of Connecticut for relying on excerpts of the winning essay rather than having read the full text. Well, I have read the full text, and I continue to find the ideas expressed in it objectionable. The First Amendment is not the Eleventh Commandment. Its protection does not extend to ALL speech. For example, the Supreme Court has refused to extend the full protection of the First Amendment to obscenity. By law, its distribution and display is severely restricted. This decision has not been left up to parents to decide. When it comes to exposure to obscenity in print or on film, the courts have decided that society DOES have an interest in protecting its citizens, especially minors.

That these laws have not been extended to cover the Internet does not mean that the Internet SHOULD be exempt. In fact, Internet pornography is potentially more ubiquitous and intrusive than any other delivery system, with its unique capability to intrude unbidden into the online experience of unsuspecting people and those who just happen to be in the vicinity of a computer screen.

On the other hand, there well may be sound legal arguments for extending the full protection of the First Amendment to the Internet. But that "nobody's values are wrong or unfit" is not one of them. How about the values of someone who goes online to find a manual for making a bomb or to solicit a hit man to commit murder? These examples are not preposterous. They have already occurred. Unlawful behavior cannot be rationalized as a simple reflection of one's own subjective value system, then defended as a First Amendment right. This was my point and is my opinion.

It is certainly everyone's right to state his or her opinion on a given topic. I simply disagree with the opinion stated in the winning essay. That's what freedom of speech is all about. We are all entitled to make moral judgments about expressed opinions, especially when they are made public.

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©1999, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.