LOS ANGELES—I was struck by comments made by LDS Church member Mark Paredes on his blog today about First Amendment constitutional protections for pornography. He doesn't think there should be any. Considering his pedigree, Paredes' absolutist views are interesting not just with respect to porn, but because he also seems to be arguing for greater alignment between the LDS Church and orthodox Jews—and not just culturally but politically as well.
Peredes, who currently authors the "Jews and Mormons" blog for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, has also had an impressive career in politics, according to his Wikipedia page. He is an attorney who served as a U.S. diplomat at the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1994–1996 and at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico from 1991-1993. He also worked as the press attaché for the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, was the National Director of Hispanic Outreach for the American Jewish Congress, and served as the Executive Director of the Western Region of the ZOA (Zionist Organization of America).
He was very impressed with the 40,000+ gathering of ultra-orthodox Jewish men in New York Sunday evening, during which rabbis from around the world and other speakers addressed the dangers of the internet in general, and the scourge of internet porn in particular. From Peredes' point of view, it could just as easily been a gathering of 40,000+ Mormons; that's how similarly the two religions feel about the issues being addressed.
"When my wife told me that tens of thousands of religious men had gathered at a stadium in New York yesterday to hear sermons on the dangers of the internet," he wrote," I was sure that some kind of LDS priesthood meeting had been held. It turned out to be a gathering of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, and the speakers were rabbis instead of apostles and prophets. Nevertheless, the unprecedented event highlighted the desire of religiously observant leaders throughout the country to warn their congregants of the downside to a wireless world."
The issue of online porn, he added, is raised at every large LDS conference, for good reason. "Mormons are avid users of the internet (as are many ultra-Orthodox Jews)," he reminded his readers. "The LDS Church itself has a large online presence, and Mormons use the internet to promote their values and beliefs to a worldwide audience.
"However, we are regularly reminded by our leaders to be careful about the websites we visit and the online contacts that we make. If the Jewish gathering in New York is any indication, our mutual concern over internet abuse may lead to fruitful collaboration in the future between the LDS and Orthodox communities."
Interesting, especially in light of his final thought. "As a postscript," he wrote, "I’d like to add my firm belief that the extension of First Amendment protection of political speech to pornographers is one of the greatest legal fictions of our time."
Those protections, as Paredes may or may not be aware, are not the result of fictitious legal cases, of course, but the byproduct of real cases in which the United States Supreme Court, over the course of many years, finally established a three-pronged test that it said must be used by juries to determine if a creative work can be deemed legally obscene, with the commensurate harsh penalties that accrue.
Here is the text of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Nowhere in that description is the word "political" or "politics" used to distinguish between types of speech accorded constitutional protection. One may, as many have, read into the framer's intent that the highest level of protection was reserved for political speech, but it is usually the political class that makes such self-serving arguments. We now have a Supreme Court that has extended unfettered First Amendment protections to corporate speech, and yet our sexual speech—the speech that so often expresses our deepest sense of our own identity—is still tenaciously up for grabs, and in the case of Paredes, given no stock at all.
Need it be said that Paredes, like his ultra-orthodox brethren, seems more intent on ensuring that the religious institutions he identifies with are allowed unregulated speech no matter how hateful, sexist or biased they may be? In his reality, therefore, the full protections of the Constitution can be legally siphoned through oppressive institutions, religious or otherwise, but what is not tolerable is that individuals be left alone to believe as they will, and to express themselves as they wish. It is a shameful point of view for anyone but those vested in institutional oppression.
But these are the world views being perpetrated these days, when powerful groups like the LDS Church or ultra-orthodox Jewish communities are so threatened by human advances that they would assault the Constitution in the name of fear.
That someone of Paredes' accomplishments could so blithely argue for the across-the-board criminalization of all explicit sexual speech—which is precisely what he has done—should put the fear of God (or at least established religion) into everyone.