Dr. Laura Censorship

It seems somehow appropriate that the Orange County Register [back in 2000] provided Dr. Laura with some thirty-odd column inches in which to pursue her vendetta against the American Library Association. Considering as how it's one of the few newspapers so politically conservative that it undoubtedly considers talk show host Rush Limbaugh, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and [former] Senator Trent Lott, to be flaming leftists.

At any rate, her vendetta against the ALA has escalated beyond internet access, to the point of criticizing libraries for hanging art that she personally considers obscene.

So what is the problem with censorship? The problem is that once you start down that dark path, it's difficult to draw the line. What constitutes obscenity? (Note that I, personally, find nothing more obscene than the notion that one person has a right to censor another!) Is Dr. Alex Comfort's landmark tome, The Joy of Sex pornography? How about sex education materials? And why stop with sex? Shouldn't we have a right to supress racist materials? Or, on the other hand, if we're racists, shouldn't we have a right to restrict materials that denounce racism as so much bovine scat? Or how about political materials that happen to disagree with whatever party happens to be in power at any given time? Arguably, the comic strip "Beetle Bailey" could be (and indeed, has been) the target of censorship by both the anti-military left (because of its military setting) and the military itself (because it pokes fun at the Army). Why shouldn't the Pro-Choice movement supress the "Choose Life" campaign that Dr. Laura has allied herself with? (Note that in order to "choose life," one must actually be presented with a choice; also note that life without choice ceases to be life, and is reduced to mere existence).

Even if one were to consider censorship to be more morally acceptable than a lack thereof, there's the small matter that internet "filters" are far from perfect. They have a tendency to block things they were never intended to block, and to pass things they were never intended to pass. And the decency standards used by the creators of these filters are not necessarily the same as those of others. While most American parents would rather their children weren't exposed to snuff porn or pro-racist propaganda, what about homosexuality? There are some parents (presumably including Dr. Laura herself) who would find "gay pride" material objectionable, but would want their children to have free access to homophobic material. And then there are others who would find homophobic material objectionable, but who would want their children to have access to the "gay pride" material. So what gets blocked, and what gets passed?

Dr. Laura's concepts of "family values" are every bit as simplstic as Dan Quayle's. And her concepts of morality are equally primitive, narrow-minded, parochial and biased. Her vendetta against the National Organization of Women is a prime example: Florida is attempting to offer "choose life" license plates, with a fee to benefit "adoption support" organizations (i.e., those that encourage women who didn't choose to become pregnant to give their babies up for adoption, and actively discourage abortion). NOW is opposing the idea. Why? Presumably because it comes far too close to legislating morality. And because by putting a state government in the business of opposing abortion, it reduces women to the status of "baby factories." And her campaign against any attempts to legitimize homosexual marriage seems equally narrow-minded: Why should she care any more about homosexual marriage than I do? It doesn't affect her any more than it affects me!

On the other hand, she occasionally has a grain of truth. Having found a few things on various web sites that would curl Dr. Laura's hair, I can see some value in having libraries restrict internet access, such that an individual would have to either be an adult, or have parental approval, and to have an individual user-ID and password, in order to access computers with unfiltered internet connections. And undoubtedly it's a mistake for a library to hold children's special events in rooms where any sort of controversial art is on display. But to prohibit unfiltered internet access from public computers in libraries, or to prohibit them from displaying controversial art, is censorship at its worst.

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James H. H. Lampert
Copyright © James H. H. Lampert, 2000
Revised Sunday, January 16, 2000. Links updated November 16, 2015.
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