Editor's Notebook: The Limits of Free Speech

Can an organization be blamed if its incendiary literature and suggestive website encourage a member to commit a crime? Cambridge residents Barbara and Robert Curley answer yes. Their 10-year-old son Jeffrey was murdered in 1997 by two pedophiles who befriended the boy in hopes of having sex with him. After being lured into the men's car with the promise of a new bike, Jeffrey refused to comply with their requests for sex. Charles Jaynes and accomplice Salvatore Sicari, Curley's neighbors, then killed him and sexually abused his dead body. After having been convicted in 1998, the murderers are currently serving life sentences.

Jaynes was a registered member of NAMBLA, the National Man/Boy Love Association, an organization that advocates revoking the age of consent for sex. Police found NAMBLA literature in the car where Curley died, and Jaynes allegedly accessed the NAMBLA website from a Boston Public Library computer terminal just hours before Curley's abduction. The NAMBLA paraphernalia included articles arguing for the elimination of age in consent laws and pornographic drawings of young boys engaged in sexual acts. A detective who infiltrated NAMBLA several years ago, attending meetings and talking to members undercover, told CNN that NAMBLA members have been known to travel the world searching for young boys to have sex with. The group has also been accused of selling child pornography for profit.

Although NAMBLA may not have created a pedophile in Jaynes, the organization does more harm than it claims. It does not condone violence or coercion, but it does advocate sex with young children. For example, some members believe boys as young as eight years old are capable of making their own choices whether or not to have consensual sex with an adult.

The First Amendment, guaranteeing all Americans the right to freedom of speech, is not an edict allowing deviants the freedom to express their depraved desires. One's civil rights end when they begin to encroach on another's. Theoretically, unlimited free speech is completely reasonable. Unfortunately, some Americans abuse their rights, thus restricting us all. Need convincing? Try threatening to kill the President. Try yelling "Fire!" in a crowded building. Whether you know it or not, these are all restrictions on your rights. But unless you are trying to commit treason or cause a stampede, you'll probably never have to worry. Similarly, if you aren't promoting the sexual abuse of children, or an equally heinous crime, you don't have to worry about your right to free speech being violated.

People are so concerned with preserving "inalienable rights" that they stretch the law too far. Many worry that they may be silenced for voicing unpopular views. But NAMBLA's views are more than unpopular--they are indefensible. Their "free speech" preys upon the most helpless members of society--children. It is unthinkable that the American government would allow this organization to continue. While NAMBLA claims it does not promote violence, it certainly promotes sexual abuse of children too young to consent. But would this case have been much better if Jeffrey Curley was simply raped but left alive?

This fall, the Curleys brought a $200 million lawsuit against NAMBLA, which is being defended by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The parents hope to bankrupt the group, thus forcing them to shut down. The ACLU has claimed that constitutionally, this is an "open and shut case," and has asked the judge to throw it out. This case, and the notion that a NAMBLA victory would allow the organization to continue to distribute their filth, is enough to make any conscionable person sick. It may be an "open and shut case," but not in the way the ACLU interprets it. The court's decision will be who deserves to be protected-- pedophiles or our nation's children?