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IF YOU'VE been to Daytona Beach, Fla., recently, you know that the seaside town has a new claim to fame independent of its beach and racetrack. This new attraction, however, is not touted by the Chamber of Commerce or the general public. Its name is John Tanner, and, essentially, it means censorship.
The newly elected state attorney John Tanner has adopted the cause of anti-pornography with a misguided passion. In his attempts to eradicate pornographic video tapes from local movie rental stores, he has exceeded the powers of his office to infringe on the inalienable right of freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Tanner actions are fueled by the "Big Bad Wolf" principle of justice: the way to attack evil is to huff and puff and try to forcefully blow your opposition down. In a democratic society, such archaic theology only encourages resistance. To wage a successful campaign against pornography, Tanner must restructure his game plan.
FLORIDA law allows a majority of voters in each county to define obscenity. When 300 citizens of Volusia County signed a petition supporting Tanner's endeavors to prosecute video store owners who rent out pornographic materials, he declared that he had this majority.
Conveniently, Tanner threw away letters written by the opposing sectors of the community and contested a petition drawn by the Friends of the First Amendment (FOFA), a group that formed to fight Tanner's attempts at censorship. The petition offered by FOFA boasted 10,000 signatures.
Finding himself between a rock and a hard place, Tanner has tried to clear himself with everything from plea bargaining with the store owners to using public funds to distribute anti-porn literature from left-wing Christian groups. When I left Daytona in September, it was apparent that Tanner had realized that he was quickly losing ground.
The tragedy of this episode is that eliminating pornography is a noble cause; most people would agree that it is not a valued art. But by going about his campaign in such a negative way that attacks the very heart of the Constitution, Tanner has only succeeded in alienating voters and dividing the citizens of a once united community. Furthermore, Tanner's tactics take attention away from the real issue and focus it instead on the question of First Amendment rights.
Given the ultimatum between eradicating pornography or preserving the freedom of speech, most citizens are more willing to tolerate pornography and keep their rights than to give up their liberty for a more "moralistic" society.
TANNER'S battle against pornography is not the only example of censorship gone awry. Some judges and law enforcers in Florida are also seeking to ban the music of the controversial group 2 Live Crew from music stores. Again, Florida's obscenity laws are cited, and the same threats of prosecution are made. The bittersweet irony is that 2 Live Crew's album, "As Nasty As They Wanna Be," is enjoying record-breaking sales.
Although most music critics say the band has little to offer in the quality of their songs or performances, their bookings in nightclubs and the like are drawing record crowds. Free advertisment just doesn't get any better than this. Once more, the issue becomes a question of upholding the Constitution rather than a matter of fighting obscenity.
The answer to these conflicts of interest lies in compromise and public persuasion. The John Tanners are seen as the villians in the scenarios because they try to bully their way to victory. Such tactics never succeed.
The first step involves convincing the general public that the grounds of pornography are base and demoralizing. Second, the Tanners must realize that drastic policy reversals cannot take place overnight.
In the meantime, the opposition cannot be overlooked or intimidated. In the movie rental case of Daytona, Barry Frelich--founder of FOFA and a victim of the state attorney's wrath--and other owners agreed to implement their own system of patrols on pornographic material. Among the terms they were willing to agree to were the elimination of videos showing child pornography and a system of checking identification to ensure that minors do not get access to inappropriate materials.
The store owners were even willing to set up a committee that would routinely inspect stores for violations. Their key point was that they wanted to preserve their autonomy from local authority. The state attorney, however, was not willing to compromise his position.
The United States is not a perfect society. There are many practices common today that may offend one or more groups in our communities. The point to stress is that changes in policy cannot be forced by censorship. They must be implemented with majority approval and compromise. Otherwise, the opposing factions will only further capitalize on their instant stardom.
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