Cal Thomas / Jun. 30, 2011

'Mortal Kombat' and the First Amendment

Intellectually, I understand the Supreme Court's 7-2 decision that the First Amendment protects the most violent of video games. Experientially, I don't.

It's fine for the majority to say parents have ultimate control over what their children see, but how many members of the Supreme Court have experienced "real" life? Chief Justice John Roberts spoke at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference last Saturday and said, "I don't think any of us have a Facebook page or a tweet -- whatever that is. But technology is making inroads." It certainly is.

Intellectually, I understand the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision that the First Amendment protects the most violent of video games. Experientially, I don’t.

It’s fine for the majority to say parents have ultimate control over what their children see, but how many members of the Supreme Court have experienced “real” life? Chief Justice John Roberts spoke at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference last Saturday and said, “I don’t think any of us have a Facebook page or a tweet – whatever that is. But technology is making inroads.” It certainly is.

According to the Huffington Post, at least one justice – Stephen Breyer – has a private Twitter account, which he said he used “to track the so-called Green Revolution in Iran following the country’s 2009 presidential elections. But he told a House Appropriations general government subcommittee he was testifying in front of that he had been unsure how to erase the account.”

Justices live in an unreal world. They have little experience with cyberspace and violent video games. They bring law school minds to a subject that requires practical experience.

Justices enjoy security that protects them from the kind of assaults depicted in games like “Mortal Kombat” and others in which children are allowed to emulate school shooting sprees or virtually carry out assassinations, decapitations, rape, torture and every other unimaginable horror one human being can inflict upon another.

In his dissent, Justice Breyer asked the right question: “What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”

Justices should step out of their safety zones and experience life on urban streets where mortal combat is for real and shootings are as commonplace as corrupt politicians. Where do armed teenagers in roving gangs get the idea that life is cheap and can be so easily taken without regard to social mores? Children aren’t born this way. They must be taught these things, and if parents aren’t teaching them – or more accurately “parent,” since fathers are usually absent and it doesn’t take a sociologist to see a connection – a violent and life-denying culture is happy to fill the moral void.

Does anyone believe Thomas Jefferson could have foreseen a day when violent images of the worst sort ought to be protected by the First Amendment? When he wrote about freedom of the press, did “press” mean blood and gore? And if it did, should anything be banned? Should any child be told “no”?

There are a number of laws governing childhood behavior that have never been successfully challenged. Minors are told they can’t smoke or drink until a certain age. Why does the state consider it injurious for minors to take alcohol into their stomachs and nicotine into their lungs, but not harmful for them to absorb the most violent images into their minds?

If alcohol produces a reaction in minors the state finds harmful and if cigarettes injure developing lungs and contribute to rising health care costs, – and so the state imposes age restrictions – what do violent images produce and why can’t the law impose age restrictions on those?

Minors can’t sign contracts. The state won’t let kids drive cars until a certain age, believing, rightly, that they are not mature enough to handle the responsibility. Some argue that even at age 16, the legal driving age in most states, children are still not sufficiently mature enough to drive, as evidenced by the high accident rate among teens.

Anyone who has tried to stop an adolescent from ignoring a parent’s wishes knows what I’m talking about. In a perfect world, children would listen to, respect and obey their parents. But this is far from a perfect world and parents could use occasional help from the state in preventing violent culture from undermining what’s in the best interest of the child, and the country. This ruling by the Supreme Court does not achieve that end.

© 2011 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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