Common sense, Constitution don’t justify censorship

Tack Cornelius should take a moment to think about the “marching orders” he signs off on before sending them in for print.

Thursday, he took a swipe at a letter that raised an interesting constitutional perspective about a city councilman’s proposition to force merchants to cover up magazines with “racy” pictures or text. The writer framed her thoughts around the separation of church and state. An equally interesting perspective contemplates the First Amendment implications.

This is where Cornelius lost me. Invoking the First Amendment, he chides his foil to read the First Amendment and think about “what it actually says.” Of course, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof.” His suggestion is that nowhere in the Constitution or its amendments will one find “separation of church and state.”

While true that the phrase is not so plainly written, our U.S. Supreme Court has long determined that such a separation is the essence of the establishment clause. Cornelius seems to believe that if it’s not plainly written, it’s not so.

He also says even an atheist could agree with the mayor’s proposed magazine ordinance based on secular morality. But he goes on to say that he and the Hall County Republican Party believe “religious voices belong in the public square” because “these voices … are an effective teacher of morals and ethics.”

Which is it? Either you believe that only Republicans can lead this censorship effort because of their superior religious morality or that any secular person can share the same position. You can’t expect us to believe that religious zealots occupy a monopoly on morality when you have acknowledged secular morality is just as good.

The problem with this antiquated conservatism is that there doesn’t seem to be room for people who don’t think, look and pray like you. Republican concepts and political commandments that a person must attend the same church as you to have morals is the very establishment the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

Democrats believe all voices have a place in the public square, religious and secular, men and women, black, white and brown. But we have been denied a voice by the local conservative community.

The City Council has many important opportunities to make Gainesville an even better place to live than covering up magazines. Sewer expansion and affordable housing development are just a few pressing needs.

The councilman’s intent was probably a well-intended suggestion seeking to spare parents the “horror” of explaining to a 7-year-old why they do not need to “look inside to learn 10 tips for better s-e-x!” And I believe the councilman’s personal denomination is off limits. We can analyze this proposal on the merits.

However uncomfortable some may find the checkout aisles, our society places great value on freedom of speech and press. It is true that pornographic material enjoys lesser First Amendment protection, but few would equate Cosmo with Playboy. One shudders to think of what any council member might deem “racy.”

This is particularly the case when legislators preach one thing and do another. Objective community standards for magazine suppression would have to be created, unless the council is willing to conduct daily inspections to ascertain which magazines are offensive on a case-by-case basis.
But we don’t need an ordinance. Offended shoppers could remark to the store manager that the material should be relocated or risk losing their business. This is how the free market can achieve community objectives without more governmental regulation.

Weren’t you Republicans supposed to be all about less government?

Arturo Corso
Originally published Friday, September 28, 2007

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