By / Mar 26

On Tuesday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed House Bill 72, which calls for all smartphones and tablets sold in the state after 2022 to have active adult content filters. 

The legislation was broadly panned by civil libertarian groups and lauded by anti-pornography organizations. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) commended the Utah legislature for passing this bill which they say will aid parents in protecting their children from unwanted exposure to pornography. 

“There are countless heartbreaking stories of the harm caused by children’s unhindered access to Internet devices—including the individual and familial trauma of pornography exposure and addiction and adult predators targeting and grooming kids online,” said Dawn Hawkins, senior vice president and executive director of the NCOSE.

What does the new law do?

The new law requires a tablet or a smartphone sold in the state and manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2022, to, when activated in the state, automatically enable a filter capable of blocking material that is “harmful to minors.” Under the Utah State Code, harmful to minors means that quality of any description or representation, in whatsoever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse when it: taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors. 

The device must also notify the user when content is filtered and enable adults to deactivate the filter for the device or for specific content. 

Additionally, the legislation provides a process for the attorney general or a member of the public to bring a civil action against a manufacturer that manufactures a device on or after Jan. 1, 2022, if the device does not contain an enabled filter or if a minor accessed material that is harmful to minors on the device. The penalty allows for a civil penalty of up to $10 for each violation, and that a portion of any civil penalty recovered be provided to the Crime Victims Reparations Fund. 

The rule doesn’t take effect until five other states pass equivalent laws. If that requirement is not met before 2031, the law will not take effect.

Which states might follow Utah’s lead in passing similar laws?

In 2016, Utah became the first state to officially declare pornography a “public health crisis.” Since then, 15 other states have followed Utah’s lead in making a similar declaration in at least one legislative chamber. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia. If only one of three of those states pass similar legislation in the next decade, Utah’s law will go into effect. 

Isn’t the law too burdensome on tech manufacturers?

As the NCOSE points out, virtually all devices already have such filters, but they are turned to OFF when sold. “This bill simply requires the filters to be turned ON when activated in Utah,” says NCOSE. “Adults are not prohibited from accessing such material and are given a PIN to remove the filter for their own use if they choose to do so. Children will not receive PINs to deactivate the filters.”

“This ensures that the devices are effective for protecting minors while being unrestrictive on adults,” says Hawkins. “While these filters are already available on most devices now, on an Apple device, for example, it takes 20+ complicated steps to turn them on, leaving most parents helpless to protect their kids online.” 

The law also makes it clear that it would not apply to smartphone and tablet manufacturers that make a “good faith effort” to provide a “generally accepted and commercially reasonable method of filtration in accordance with this part and industry standards.”

See also:

By / Mar 6

No one in American life is more committed to religious liberty for all than the Latter-day Saints. We disagree strongly on crucial matters of faith—including the question of what the gospel is and what the church is, even over the question of who and what God is. But we work together for religious liberty, because we can have those debates while simultaneously agreeing that we ought to have the freedom to have them without government interference. We don’t have to agree on whether Joseph Smith was right about golden plates to agree that Thomas Jefferson was right about inalienable rights.

A few weeks back, LDS officials announced their intention to craft first-of-its-kinds legislation that would attempt to balance the concerns of the LGBT community with the concerns of religious liberty advocates. The much-anticipated bill has finally been unveiled. So the question remains why we—and our Roman Catholic religious liberty allies—don’t sign on to this strategy as well. We can’t speak for the Catholic bishops, of course, but here’s how we see it.

The bill is well-intentioned. We love our gay and lesbian neighbors, and we don’t want to see them treated spitefully or unfairly.

Admittedly, in most cases, sexual orientation and gender identity matter little in terms of employment and housing. But this bill leaves wholly unprotected private, for-profit business owners who want to run their business according to their faith. Though it does protect businesses with 15 or fewer employees, this arbitrary threshold doesn’t protect Christian or other believing businesses or business owners beyond that. And further, there are no guarantees that the bill would not someday be amended to either reduce that threshold or eliminate it altogether. Indeed, many at the forefront of the Sexual Revolution’s legal advance note that what they ultimately want is to accord the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a legal status on a par with race, ethnicity, and sex in anti-discrimination law.

As for just one example, this bill would still require a Christian-owned t-shirt printing company with 17 employees to print speech that its owners find morally compromising. Legally compelled speech where the government has not sought out a less restrictive means goes against the letter and spirit of our First Amendment. This is unacceptable.

There are additional problems wrought by this bill. With a religiously conservative body such as the LDS Church voluntarily agreeing to enshrine “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as legitimate legal categories, the bill acts to further cement as protected classes categories based on morally problematic conduct or self-presentation. While the bill does include a provision stating that the bill should not be construed to create a protected class, the idea of protected classes has both statutory and common law constitutional effects. It is possible, even probable, that future courts will cite this as evidence that what is referred to as “strict scrutiny” in equal protection jurisprudence is required for those classes.

This concession works drastically against religious communities who do not agree with this viewpoint on matters of legal principle. Every law that grants protection for these classes adds to the weight of evidence that constitutional protection and even strict scrutiny is warranted. Despite the broad religious exemptions in the bill, if a court were to hold that “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” are classes protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, it is unlikely that that grant would give any protection to churches or religious organizations.

Finally, the more subtle and deleterious effects of this bill aren’t even in the bill itself. Over time, law works in tandem with other cultural factors to alter attitudes and public opinion. Regardless of protections this bill might offer, it aids and abets the cultural forces that would render historic Christian beliefs on sexuality (and even marriage) suspect and eventually out of bounds. The symbolism of this law represents an historic and incremental concession to those who would leave no room in the public square for those who refuse to bow down before, or offer sacrifices to, the false gods of the Sexual Revolution.

We don’t doubt our Mormon friends’ good intentions, but we don’t agree that this is the best way to achieve these goals.

By / Aug 6

“What is Marriage?” That’s the question that my friends Ryan Anderson, Sherif Gergis and Robert George want answered. We’re now embroiled in a great national debate about a) what the answer to the question is; and b) who gets to answer this question.

More often than not, when debated on TV or in print, it’s the question of what marriage actually is that gets completely ignored or intentionally avoided.

“What is marriage?” is the key question that drives all other aspects of this debate. It’s not first whether denying same-sex persons civil marriage violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution; it’s not first whether support for traditional marriage somehow humiliates children in same-sex households. No, the question at stake is more foundational and definitional. What’s at stake in this debate—and what needs to be answered—is whether marriage is malleable or fixed; whether marriage is something subject to electoral opinion, or whether—like water—marriage has a definite composition. Or, to use Anderson, Gergis and George’s terminology, whether marriage is conjugal or subject to revision.

For if marriage is something; that is, whether it is intelligible and has a definite shape to it, then the question of whether same-sex attracted persons can enter into something that they’re not apt to enter, becomes irrelevant. All individuals are free to marry; it’s simply the case that not all adult relationships are pursuing relationships that are marital by nature. And who gets to make this decision is where the debate lies.

It also happens to be an important aspect up for debate in the just-released cert petition that Utah officials have filed before the Supreme Court, asking the nine justices to determine “[W]hether the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits a state from defining or recognizing marriage only as the legal union between a man and a woman.”

The cert petition comes after a June 10 Circuit Court of Appeals ruling struck down Utah’s state marriage amendment.

Petitioners strike at the heart of the debate, urging that people of goodwill can disagree over marriage’s definition:

The difference in these views is not that one side promotes equality, justice, and tolerance, while the other endorses inequality, injustice, and intolerance. Rather, it is a difference in understanding about what the marriage institution is—or ought to be. People can disagree. But the question for this Court is not which view is better; it is whether the Constitution compels states to adopt either definition. (emphasis mine)

For all of the shoddy argument and shallow rhetoric bandied about over “marriage equality,” petitioners have positioned this case around the issue that demands to be answered: Whether marriage amendments that define marriage as the union of a man and woman pass constitutional muster. Supreme Court justices will have to consider the merits of different views about marriage’s essence, but ultimately, the question reduces to a matter of authority: Do the people, endowed with their capacity for observation about society’s ends and goals, have the ability to define marriage? Or, rather, does the Constitution require a definition-less understanding of marriage? Do citizens possess the authority to define marriage laws? Or, do judges? The Court should recognize the legitimate authority for citizens to make reasonable observations about the nature of marriage—actions that citizens in over thirty states have taken.

The Court should take up this case. Moreover, it should listen to the canons of received tradition and wisdom that has long recognized, to quote Chesterson, that “an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children literally alter the destiny of nations” and recognize that marriage amendments enacted by citizens in a representative government are constitutional.

Regardless of what the Court decides to do, marriage has a normative poise to it. This, the Court can never undo. Marriage is an institution that has been recognizable across all cultures throughout all of history by very diverse cultures and thinkers. It’s the one union that draws a man and woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces.

The stakes are enormous in this case. Should the Supreme Court decide to take it up (and it could decide not to), it could very well offer a Roe v. Wade-style ruling that strikes down all state constitutional amendments. Or, it could defer the issue to the states. Either way, the Supreme Court is now in the position to settle once and for all who in America is empowered to answer this one single question—What is Marriage?

By / Dec 16

For years, marriage advocates have argued that legally redefining marriage to include more than a man and a woman would lead inexorably to polygamy, polyandry, etc., because once marriage is redefined, there is no limiting principle to prevent its redefinition again and again. The closest proponents of same-sex marriage have come to offering a limiting principle is love and consent, which is to say, no limiting principle at all.

Last week, a ruling in the District Court of Utah decriminalized polygamy based on the holding in Lawrence v. Texas, wherein the Supreme Court discovered a constitutional right to sodomy. Regardless of how higher courts rule, Brown v. Buhman is the intermediary legal step to recognizing bigamous and polygamous relationships as "marriage" just as Joe Carter explained that the Lawrence decision has been the foundation for all legal decisions allowing same-sex marriage, and the necessary precursor for the Supreme Court to strike down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act last summer.

As a general rule, marriage domesticates men and protects women and children by linking them through moral, social and legal bonds to the children they father. Through neglect, indifference, and legal activism we have undermined that marriage ideal as we've sought to make marriage whatever consenting adults want it to be. Let's not be shocked then that we're countenancing the re-subjugation of women in polygamous unions, and all the collateral damage that comes along with it for their children. Scratch civilization and you'll find the veneer is very thin, held together only through institutions like marriage and the social and moral bonds they encompass. These bonds are easily broken, and built only with great difficulty.

Yet even as we see cracks multiply in the edifice, and watch the great structure of civilization teeter and sway, we build. And we build not for ourselves only, seeking to retain what goodness and beauty this life has to offer. No. We build for the children and grandchildren yet unknown, who will one day look to our example to understand what faithfulness requires.

And we build for glory of God, because there is nothing in this world which images the nature, the magnificence, and the mystery of God like marriage. We build because there is no argument for the gospel so strong as a man willing to incarnate Christ in his marriage through the laying down of his life for his bride. We build because a wife's response to Christ in her husband makes the Church intelligible to a watching world.

Christians, look well to your household. Look well to your marriage. Because a day is coming, and indeed is here, when a hungry world will want what you have by the grace of God. If you have it.