Tag Archives: First Amendment

Should the news industry be regulated?


Regulation for the news? Some say yes. Photo by Flickr user NS Newsflash.

Here at Backward Messages, I spend a lot of time writing about how journalists get it wrong, whether it’s playing up someone’s Wicca or Satanism faith or linking mass shootings with violent video games or heavy metal music. In some cases, they’re not getting it wrong by accident, but willingly focusing on “sexy” angles that will get more people to read or view a story, even if journalists are bending the truth in the process.

Over in Britain, where many journalists have been charged with crimes in the large-scale phone-hacking scandal at News Corp., a judge has recommended some changes in the way news agencies are run.

This week, Judge Brian Leveson delivered a long-awaited report sparked by British journalists’ misdeeds, and one of his top recommendation is for the news industry — in Britain at least — to establish a regulatory agency to keep reporters on the straight and narrow:

The British press should be regulated by an independent group supported by law and with the power to fine … Leveson said he was not recommending that Parliament set up a press regulator, but that the industry should create its own, which would be backed by legislation to make sure it meets certain standards of independence and effectiveness.

News International, a subsidiary of News Corp., responded with support for the idea in a statement, saying, “We accept that a new system should be independent, have a standards code, a means of resolving disputes, the power to demand prominent apologies and the ability to levy heavy fines.”

Rightly so, there are concerns that such an agency could stifle freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are highly valued in Britain even without the backing of a doctrine like the First Amendment in the U.S. But the idea is a reminder that, other than laws against libelous or slanderous reporting, the news world is very lightly regulated, and journalists get away with a lot — even though their task is to properly inform the populace.

So, what do you think? Should the news industry — in any country — be regulated? If so, should it be regulated by peers, by the government, or by someone else? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Why banning violent video games isn’t the answer


British MP Keith Vaz, who has a history of criticizing violent games, is calling for a “closer scrutiny” of first-person shooters. Photo courtesy UK Parliament.

In the wake of Norway terrorist Anders Breivik’s claims that Modern Warfare helped him train for a real-live massacre, British MP Keith Vaz says it’s time for Britain to take a closer look at violent first-person shooter video games.

Vaz’s motion says British parliament “is concerned that PEGI [Europe’s video-game rating board] as a classification system can only provide an age-rating and not restrict ultra-violent content.” Although the motion has only picked up a handful of supporters since it was introduced, he continues to push the measure, even though Britain is already planning tighten video-game rules and make illegal to supply titles to people who aren’t old enough for the age rating.

Vaz has a history with violent video games. After a 14-year-old was murdered in 2004, the victim’s parents claimed they thought Manhunt inspired the killer. Vaz called for closer scrutiny of such games. Police dismissed the claim after it was discovered the victim, not the killer, was a fan of the game. (Britain later banned Manhunt 2, the country’s first such restriction.)

Vaz is also no fan of Bully or Counter-Strike, the latter of which was associated with race-related shootings in Malmö, Sweden.

Here’s the problem with such actions, which have been attempted in the United States as well, and usually are found in violation of the First Amendment: When someone like Breivik claims that video games are partly responsible for his killing spree, he’s letting himself off the hook. It wasn’t me that did it; it was the video games. Plenty of people have trouble owning up to their transgressions, especially criminals. Taking them at their word when they blame an outside “influence” legitimizes the idea that the crime isn’t their fault. Making laws based on such statements is even worse — it tells society that lawbreakers aren’t to blame for their own actions.

Is that what we really believe? If not, why do so many people support such laws?

Help EFF fight unconstitutional game labeling

I recently posted about Congressmen Joe Baca and Frank Wolf’s ill-conceived effort to put warning labels on video games. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has come out strongly against the proposal, calling it unconstitutional.

They write:

In a recent Supreme Court decision to strike down a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors, the justices emphatically rejected studies that purport to show such a link: “California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason.”

Not only that, but the Court expressly affirmed the robust First Amendment protection due to video games: “Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium.”

The page also provides you with a quick and handy way to tell your local Congressperson to oppose Baca and Wolf’s bill.

Legislator: If prayer bill passes, “[Kids] could say whatever they want. That scares me.”


Opponents of a Florida bill say it would allow kids to deliver “Satanic messages” at school events. Photo by Flickr user allthecolor.

The prayer-in-schools debate has revived in Florida, where a bill that would allow students to deliver “inspirational messages” at school events has passed the house and senate and awaits the vote of Gov. Rick Scott.

According to the Washington Post, Scott “hasn’t promised to sign the bill, but he did say this: ‘I haven’t seen the bill, but I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.'”

However, some have pointed out that the law would permit students to include “Satanic messages” in school alongside those of other faiths. One such detractor was Democratic Rep. Jeff Clemons, who read from the “Aryan Satanic Manifesto.” He then asked Rep. Charles Van Zant, who supports the law, if the passage was inspirational.

“That would be the students’ prerogative because of our constitutional freedom of speech,” Van Zant replied.

The Sunshine Sentinel stated:

While supporters are largely viewed as trying to open up a channel for school prayer, both sides in the debate agree it could also allow messages that include Holocaust denial, racially-charged speeches, uncomfortable beliefs of some fringe religions or endorsements of sex and drugs… If backers of the bill want students to be able to give Christian prayers as an inspirational message, they have to be prepared for Satanic, Muslim and other messages.

“They could say whatever they want,” said Rep. Marty Kiar. “That scares me.”

I’m not sure if this is genuine sentiment, or a last-ditch effort to make this bill fail. In either case, it comes down to a few things: One, some legislators are afraid of the beliefs and statements of people who follow Satanism and other religions they consider “fringe.” (By the way, it’s worth stating that Aryan Satanism is not the only kind — it’s not even the most popular kind.) Two, they’re willing to restrict the free-speech rights of citizens in order to quell this fear, just because the citizens in this case happen to be minors. And three, this is apparently their most potent argument against allowing “inspirational” religious messages in schools.

I’m not a proponent of prayer in school, but for once, I find myself siding with those who are.

What do you think? Would this bill allow Satanist kids to have their say? And would that be a bad thing?

Christmas sign might force parents to explain their belief in Satan to their children


Jackie Blevins’ Christmas lights, and their unorthodox message, are making his Tennessee neighbors angry. Photo by Tim Davis.

Humans have a variety of responses to rejection. Some withdraw. Some tell themselves they’re better off anyway. Some get revenge. And some, apparently, put up Christmas lights with Satanic messages in them. That’s what Jackie Blevins did, and his neighbors in Carter County, Tennessee, aren’t so happy.

The message reads: “The Devil’s Inn rules. Closed until Judgement Day. Satan Satan hear my plea. Satan Satan come to me.”

Here’s how Blevins explained the whole thing to a WCYB reporter:

“[I] put this sign up here on the building because of what has happened right here,” Blevins said as he pointed to cars he refinished with skulls and devil’s horns.

Blevins told News 5 his cars were banned from area car shows, and in response he built the sign as a way of showing his anger.

While his decorative choices may rub some people the wrong way, he tells News 5, it’s just his personal form of expression. “It is my freedom of speech, my freedom of religion for these cars out here. They don’t mean nothing. They’re just a chunk of lousy metal,” Blevins explained.

But some folks who live nearby are upset with the message:

“I was just horrified, horrified,” Deborah Jones said of the first time she saw the sign. “Knowing that a child could ask a parent is Satan really there? Is Satan in his home? What is a parent supposed to say to a child?”

… I would assume that a parent in that position would answer in accordance with his or her beliefs. If you don’t believe in Satan, say so. If you do, explain who he is, what his background is, and how you (and other people of your faith) feel about him. Why someone would spend so much time and energy on a figure like the Devil, and yet be unwilling to discuss those feelings with a curious child? In either case, it’s also a good time to discuss the First Amendment, and the freedom to speak out and to practice whatever faith makes you happy.

Someone else has already beat me to blogging about this. You can read a more Christian take over at Fellowship of the Minds. The comments are particularly interesting.

Religious leaders see monsters — in teens


Does vampire fiction make teens more likely to commit evil crimes? Some seem to think so. Photo by Flickr user drurydrama (Len Radin).

Halloween is coming soon, and people are already seeking spooks.

Specifically, adults in religious communities around the world think they’re seeing monsters — in teenagers.

In South Africa, a foster teen’s parents discovered some of her poetry and sketchbooks and are now convinced that the 14-year-old has a secret double life with a Satanic cult. Because that’s the first thing that leaps to mind, right? In one sketch, the girl drew Jesus on the cross and then wrote, “He lied/He cried/He died.” On another page, a poem reads:

Lucifer was here and now he is gone.
Maybe we should try and just carry on.
The devil is cool, he is fly.
The beast is the apple of his eye.
Satan is our king and he wears the crown.
And he ain’t letting us walk with a frown…”

(I had to check and make sure these aren’t song lyrics. As far as I can tell, they aren’t.)

When the girl’s foster mother found the diaries — apparently while the girl was away — her assumption was that the girl is part of a Satanic cult. Her response? She took them to the local newspaper, which then turned the poor girl’s diaries over to a minister for examination. It starts out well enough:

“She feels very rejected and it’s normal for young people to try and find their identity,” [Father Mike Williams] says, paging through the books.

Oh, but then he had to go on…

“Even though one can see she’s already delved deep into this whole thing, this doesn’t mean that she’s possessed.

“We must see if she has given her soul to the devil or took part in a black mass.”

… What??

It is, as Williams points out, totally natural for teens to begin questioning Christianity, if it’s the religion they were raised with. Some come back; some don’t. Since many teens are vulnerable to black-and-white thinking, they sometimes combine that questioning with an exploration of the polar opposite — in this case, Satanism. Sometimes it’s an honest exploration of faith. Sometimes it’s a way to draw concern from parents who might not be paying attention in the way a teen craves.

Foster children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, abandonment issues, and depression. According to one study, 60 percent of former foster kids suffered signs of depression. To me, the drawings and poems from this South African girl sound like the product of loneliness and perhaps depression — but not “Satanic cult” activity. Her mother should consider finding her some counseling, not an exorcist.

Such suspicions are not restricted to South Africa, however. In a recent article published in several Christian newspapers, Thomas Horn (author of books such as The Gods Who Walk Among Us and Invisible Invasion) goes on at length about teen vampire and werewolf fiction. The article, penned by Eryn Sun, draws links between such fiction and a handful of crimes in which young people pretended to be vampires.

Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the bizarre things Horn has to say:

“Psychologists have long understood how women in general desire strength in men, but few could have imagined how this natural and overriding need by young ladies would be used in modern times to seduce them of their innocence using mysteriously strong yet everlastingly damned creatures depicted in popular books and films like Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse.”

I can barely get past the sexism in this quote, but I’ll try: he’s saying that women’s need for strong men somehow makes them crave vampire fiction in which the men in question are powerful vampires. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

But then Sun uses these examples to illustrate Horn’s point:

Just a few months ago, a 19-year-old in Texas, claiming to have been a 500-year-old vampire needing to be fed, broke into a woman’s home, threw her against the wall, and tried to suck her blood.

Another instance in Florida involved a teenage girl who was charged along with four others for beating a 16-year-old to death. They were part of a purported vampire cult, with one teenage girl calling herself a vampire/werewolf hybrid.

Where are the girls craving powerful, vampiric men in these examples?

Oh, Horn does go on, arguing that modern horror fiction is different from that of the past, because the new monsters are “impervious to Christ’s power.” In turn, that means young readers and viewers “have exchanged yesterday’s pigtails and pop-guns for pentagrams and blood covenants aligned with forces far stronger than former generations could have imagined.” I’m not sure how many Twilight and True Blood viewers have actually made blood covenants with any “forces,” but I’d bet it’s not many (and, it’s a legitimate spiritual pursuit if they want to — after all, we are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment).

It’s true that, once in a while, a young person commits violence. Occasionally, that violence is inspired by horror tales. But that’s because violent people occasionally enjoy horror tales — not because the horror tales somehow inspire the violence.

These are, unfortunately, the kinds of messages that can make some deeply religious people question or even fear teenagers — their own, or other people’s. Such questioning and fear leads these teens, who often already feel isolated and different (and therefore unaccepted, or unacceptable), to feel far worse about themselves. That can’t lead anywhere good. Parents and pastors who truly want to help these kids need to love them, listen to them, understand them, and meet them halfway, not put the Biblical smackdown on them when they’re already vulnerable.

Do you think horror fiction is unhealthy for teen audiences? Does it inspire criminal activity, or put their souls at risk? Does the South African girl really belong to a Satanic cult?

Will the Supreme Court bar minors from buying violent video games?


Silent Hill: Downpour, unveiled at this year’s E3, is the newest game in the series that pits humans against monsters. Will an upcoming Supreme Court ruling ban its sale to minors?

As game journalists decompress from this year’s E3, word from the Supreme Court on a California video-game law is still pending.

Justices heard the case, Brown vs. EMA (formerly Schwarzenegger vs. EMA), Nov. 2, but have yet to issue a ruling on the law, which bans the sale of “ultraviolent” video games to buyers under 18. California courts found the law unconstitutional in 2007, so it never took effect. Among the cases before the court, this one has been waiting the longest for resolution.

That’s giving many the opportunity to speculate on just what is going on behind the scenes. For example:

The longer a case has been awaiting resolution, the longer the decision is likely to be, and the greater the number of justices weighing in with dissenting or concurring statements. One case handed down on the last day of the last term, involving gun-owner rights, ran for more than 200 pages over five separate opinions.

Readers may recall that in March, Michael McConnell, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, said, “The Supreme Court is not likely to say that this statute is constitutional. I think they’re going to strike it down. But I don’t think they’re going to go as far as say these types of statutes are unconstitutional — they might uphold more narrowly defended statutes in the future.”

A recent United Press International analysis scrutinizes both sides of the argument, including the fact that California is asking the Supreme Court to consider applying this law in the same way as the 1968 ruling that barred the sale of “obscene” material to minors:

California wants the Supreme Court to review the law under the standard set by 1968’s Ginsberg vs. New York: “Under the Ginsberg standard, the act must be upheld so long as it was not irrational for the California Legislature to determine that exposure to the material regulated by the statute is harmful to minors.”

Although McConnell thought this law would be struck down, some have argued that the delay in issuing a ruling means the Supreme Court might uphold it. It’s also possible that they’ll strike it down, but their ruling will include information on how a narrower, rewritten bill could be constitutional.

What do you think the Supreme Court will do? Will they let minors continue to buy violent video games, or will they make such sales illegal?