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Monday, April 02, 2007

Let parents rule on kids' issues

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

With the development of a vaccine that protects women against cervical cancer, some people think it is a good idea to require that all pre-pubescent girls be inoculated. That, indeed, may be a good idea. But would the advocates of such mandatory inoculations be as enthusiastic if a yet-undiscovered HIV-AIDS vaccine was mandated for high-risk groups, such as gays, IV drug users and women married to bisexual men? They too are endangered by a life-threatening disease, and if a vaccine can be forced on children, then why not adults?

Not that I'm seriously proposing such a measure; it's just a thought experiment that might illustrate some of the problems of finding the appropriate balance between individual liberty and government intrusiveness. More to the point: How much power should the government have in telling parents how to raise their children? Or the reverse: How much power should the government have to prevent parents from raising their children as they see fit?

Some legislation now being debated by Illinois legislators in Springfield illustrates the last point: House Bill 317 would give every girl the right to have an abortion without telling her parents. All they'd need do is tell a "specified adult family member or a member of the clergy." It's as if to say that notifying a sympathetic aunt is the same as notifying a parent.

This issue keeps popping up because years ago the legislature passed a law affirming a parent's right and obligation to know if his child is to have an abortion. But because a politically motivated state Supreme Court refused for years to issue rules to implement the law, it never took effect. Now, after a court more acquainted with its obligation to enforce the law issued the rules, the abortion lobby is pushing this bill that would invalidate previous ones. About two-thirds of the states have a parental notification law, and polls consistently show that wide majorities of the American public favor such notification. The pro and con arguments have been well trod; I'd just add an observation: Have parents done such a bad job of raising children that the job should be turned over to the children themselves?

House Bill 1727 would require libraries to install filters on their computers to protect children from Internet porn. It was introduced in the face of vehement opposition from groups with radical individual-rights agendas, such as the American Library Association, which believes that kids should have access to "anything they want" in their libraries, according to ALA literature. This is a parent empowerment act, which would help create a safer environment for their children when they are in their libraries.

Some folks think this is a conflict between free speech and parental rights. It isn't. There's no law or court decision that requires libraries to stock porn, whether on the shelves in their youth sections or on their child-accessible computers. That is so sensible that you're right to wonder why a law is required.

House Bill 466 would further limit the number of charter schools in Illinois, denying parents and their children greater choice in how they will use their tax money to educate their children. Charter schools have proven they can develop successful teaching methods and environments, if they are free of the suffocating and costly regulations of school bureaucracies and labor unions. And there's the obvious explanation for why the unions are so anxious to pass this legislation. That they are not even slightly ashamed to be demanding such anti-child, anti-parent legislation says much about their blind self-interest.

There is a constant struggle between just how much control government should have in child-raising. Sometimes government must step in, for example, to prevent abuse, to protect children against diseases and to provide a safe environment. But there should be no argument when government gives every child the right to a virtually secret abortion and to view pornography in public places with official sanction, while forcing most children to attend schools crippled by red tape and exhausted, unmotivated, uncaring or incompetent teachers.


Crazy Politico said...

That was an excellent piece! I'd say the only thing you forgot; though not in Illinois legislation right now; is the group trying to get advertising for certain cereals banned during kids shows, because parents have forgotten how to tell their kids "NO".

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

Studies show that girls in this situation who do not get along with their parents are more likely to run away or attempt suicide. Is this what we really want for our kids?

Even the conservative Tribune, which runs your column, champions free speech. Why are you against it?

Charter schools have a mixed record at best, but that is not the real issue here. There is simply not enough space in good schools for all the kids in bad schools. Why not do like Chicago and turn the schools around? said...

Mr. Bryne,

Well said, and as to the HB1727 issue, the American Library Association's current president Leslie Burger has responded to you.

Leslie Burger is, in my experience, very reasonable and well spoken. Reading her response is further proof of this.

However, she is extremely misleading, even if well meaning.

She says, "librarians work cooperatively with parents to assure that what a child reads or borrows from the library is age-appropriate...." True, but false. True, librarians do this, but false because the ALA's top leadership promotes an agenda that ensures children access a continuing stream of pornography. For just one example, a book containing oral sex scenes that even the book's own author said he would not give to his own 12 year old, was awarded as the very best book of 2006 for children as young as 12. The ALA described the book glowingly and made no mention of the inappropriate material in the book.

Then Leslie Burger says, "ALA cares deeply about the safety of children." Ms. Burger is the President for a single year, but the 40 year de facto leader of the ALA, Judith Krug, said the following regarding an attempt in Oak Lawn, IL to keep the public library from making Playboy magazine available to children: "I get very concerned when we start hearing people who want to convert this country into a safe place for children. I am adult. I want available what I need to see." She also said, "Parents who would tell their children not to read Playboy 'don't really care about their kids growing up and learning to think and explore.'"

Leslie Burger also says, "education and guidance provided by caring adults, rather than software or laws blocking access, are the keys to children's lifelong safe use of the Internet." That's nice. But the ALA knows that's only in a perfect world. Again, here's Judith Krug: "We know that there are children out there whose parents do not take the kind of interest in their upbringing and in their existence that we would wish, but I don't think censorship is ever the solution to any problem, be it societal or be it the kind of information or ideas that you have access to."

Burger: "Internet filters defeat this crucial mission by reducing everyone's choices to the choices appropriate for a 5-year-old." Facts: a US Supreme Court case in 2003 called US v. ALA held Internet filters are perfectly legal, and they can be temporarily disabled just for the asking. So why is Leslie Burger saying what she is saying? More importantly, why is the ALA still considered authoritative when it makes such major misrepresentations?

Then she talks about "unfunded mandates." What? Libraries nationwide, following the ALA's directives, are turning down millions of dollars in federal funding they used to get under the Children's Internet Protection Act -- just so they can maintain unfiltered Internet computers. What a total distortion of the truth.

And she makes no mention of the criminals who pray upon librarians and other patrons, especially children, due to even a single unfiltered Internet computer. And she makes no mention of how the ALA misleads parents as to the true contents of inappropriate materials yet claims parents must get involved. And she claims "laws often violate the 1st Amendment" although US v. ALA proves her wrong and state after state is passing similar legislation, just like HB1727.

Is misleading people about the truth the only way the ALA has left to oppose HB1727?

Her main argument is reserved for the end of her article. She says, "Local communities should be allowed to keep their authority to adopt policies and implement educational programs that equip both parents and children to protect themselves and enjoy their time online." I agree fully.

But that is not what is happening in reality. In Oak Lawn, IL, one father, then hundreds of people, then the entire town via survey, then the town government of Oak Lawn tried to get the library to stop making Playboy available to children. Each time the library refused. And the ALA Council, the then ALA President, and Judith Krug, the de facto ALA leader herself, got invoved to ensure children maintained access to Playboy. Just as Krug had said those many years before.

Local control is the main myth the ALA uses to maintain its grip on communities and on their children. HB1727 is indeed only needed precisely because local control is impossible.

The public libraries have brought this on themselves by slavishly following ALA directives, and now ALA leadership uses misrepresentation to deflect attention from the truth. Worse, children will continue to be unprotected by perfectly reasonable laws and the court decisions designed to protect children -- from the ALA.

Do not be fooled. Support HB1727. Tell your legislators to support HB1727.

Questions/comments welcome.

JNeal said...

Opposition to HB 1727 on the basis of free speech limitation misses the point. This bill does not seek to limit the production of a single internet site. Each and every site remains completely free to produce any form of pornography, immorality and debauchery it desires. Each will remain free to produce to its hearts desire should this legislation be enacted. The bill does seek, however, to limit only the unfettered distribution of this material. There remains an abundance of access points for the sexually starved to undertake this activity without putting it in our public libraries. Should we also make pornography readily available for sale in our grocery stores, Walgreen's and other types of general stores? Maybe stick the magazines right next to People and Cosmo in the check out line?

Many of the same people crying limitation of free speech are also screaming for newspapers to drop Ann Coulter from their daily production or seek to have General Pace relieved of his duties. The hypocrisy is rampant.

denisev said...

Chicago Tribune Letter to the Editor
April 9, 2007
Columnist Dennis Byrne wonders why, in a sensible world, a law should be necessary to protect children from Internet pornography in public libraries (April 2 Commentary in Chicago Tribune) and Leslie Burger, President of the American Library Association answers, absurdly, that no law is necessary because libraries promote safety by providing children with unfiltered Internet access (April 9 letter in Chicago Tribune).
The American Library Association and their fellow ideologues have created the need for this law (HB 1727) by refusing to acknowledge that children deserve to be protected from Internet pornography in public libraries. Leslie Burger states that librarians work cooperatively with parents, but her organization encourages local librarians to oppose parents when they request filtered Internet access for their children in libraries.
Ms. Burger also refers to Internet filtering laws as “unfunded mandates” but fails to mention the financial burden that not filtering places on the taxpayers who can least afford it. Only libraries that utilize Internet filters in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act receive federally funded discounts on internet and telecommunication expenses. Discounts range from 20% to 90% depending on the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the population served.
Yet, Leslie Burger wants poverty stricken inner city libraries to forego these federal subsidies in order to teach children “critical reasoning skills” that can only be gleaned from unfiltered Internet access. If this is what the American Library Association calls “serving the needs of communities,” it is no wonder the citizens are crying, “There ought to be a law!”

Denise Varenhorst, President
Family Friendly Libraries said...

jneal said, "Should we also make pornography readily available for sale in our grocery stores, Walgreen's and other types of general stores? Maybe stick the magazines right next to People and Cosmo in the check out line?"

The American Library Association has at least indirectly enabled exactly that, and the graphic proof is seen here: Grocery Store Pushes "Looking For Alaska" Next to "Bob the Builder" in Checkout Aisle at Child Eye Height. Go there for a picture of an ALA awarded book containing graphic oral sex for children 12 and up in a grocery store checkout aisle.

Mike Jackiw said...

Sadly you are mistaken about filtering in any way making libraries "secure" and HB 1727, which is designed to incorrectly and inappropriately force Internet filters on public library staff and patron computers, is extremely damaging to the much needed services libraries provide.

Public libraries have a long and solid history of working with their local
government bodies, including the village or district, as well as their patrons to provide the safest environment possible for both adults and children.

Radical individuals have recently decided that "unfettered access to the
Internet" translates to "pornography for children." This is 100% FALSE. I have worked in public libraries as a computer technician for the past 18 years and never once did the library staff of any of the various libraries allow, codone, or support viewing of pornographic materials by any minor and always, ALWAYS made sure that anything that was brought to their attention was dealth with. Library staff have worked hard with the parents in their areas to give everyone a balance of freedom of access to information as well as safety.

HB1727 would not only destroy this avenue of trust, but it would utterly damage the ability of public libraries to perform their function for the patrons, that of giving the patrons access to information. By imposing fines, the possibily of perjury, and not at all defining "obscene" it is designed for a library to fail.

First, it is a fact that there is no filtering system that works 100% of the time. In fact ALL filters fail to block slang or pornographic words in foreign languages. Filters do not block pornographic emails that such users can subscribe to. Filters do not stop numerous images in general searches (thumbnails). So by the very fact that filtering is a completely flawed software system there is no way a library staff member cannot perjure themselves from the very beginning.

Second, the fact that the term "obscene" is not at all defined leaves it open to a completely subjective "justice" system based on anyone who finds anything "obscene." What of the great artists works such as Picasso, Cezanne, and others? What about biological research that any patron might find "obscene?" How about the fact that people could consider historical information about the Nazis, Communists, Viet-Cong "obscene?" And most definitely images of the Holocaust, Slavery, etc.?

Third, the bill does a huge disservice to the very people who are trying to push it through in the hopes of protecting children. They will now believe, wrongly, that their children and those of other parents are "safe." This is a completely and utter falsehood. As I noted there are many extensive ways that filters can be bypassed and should any of the parents who believe their child is safe find their children were able to get to something, the result is perjury for the library employees, fines, and greater distrust on the part of the patrons served.

Last, and most important of all, public libraries serve the greater community of the lower income populace by their very nature of free access to information. Newly arrived immigrants, lower income workers, laid off workers, the struggling single parent, senior citizens...these all depend on public libraries for the ability to have access to the Internet, to the IRS, to learn about their family history (which might end up in some "obscene" areas to some people), to discover information they cannot find easily at home or school (who have parental rights), to study any varied topic, or just to read the latest information. If this bill passes public libraries will have no way to continue to serve this area of the population. They will have to cut them off completely from such access and these people, who cannot afford a home computer, high-speed Internet, laser printers, on-line database access, and all that libraries offer them, will see that their representatives have failed them by passing such a Bill that strikes at their most available access.

So again I implore you to please discontinue to push HB1727. It was designed to cause libraries to fail, to give parents a completely false sense of security, to encumber libraries financially, to block free access to legitimate information, and to take away informational access to those people who need it the most.

What should be pushed, and pushed hard, is that the representatives make bills that will really and truthfully give predators, child pornographers, and the actual criminals the punishment they deserve. Encourage them to pass bills to let the courts keep these people in prison and not get a slap on the wrist as is the case. By attacking public libraries you are actually attacking the patrons, the victims, and not doing anything at all against the criminals. For every one child that *might* come across something objectionable there are hundreds of thousands who, every day, enjoy the benefits of the library. Bills such as HB1727 is punishing those people. It is like a police officer letting a burgler go and accusing the homeowner that he shouldn't have displayed his best silverware in the china cabinet. Please reconsider your position on this bill.

Thank you for your time.