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HEARTS OF THE CITY / Exploring attitudes and issues
behind the news | Navigating the Real World

March 19, 1997

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of ethics, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

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Today's question: "The U.S. Supreme Court today will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, intended by Congress to protect children from "indecent" material on the Internet. While there are arguments on both sides, what is the responsibility of parents and how far should their oversight go?"

Dr. Maher Hathout

Spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles

"Parents vaccinate their children against measles, send them to schools, dress them in heavy clothes when it is freezing. Why is it when parents want to protect the minds and moral integrity of children that the Constitution is brought up? Protecting mind and soul at a vulnerable age is no less important than protecting the body. In abandoning this role, parents are denying children an opportunity for self-development, and leaving them as prey for money-making vultures of pornography and exploitation. Ideally the starting point for parental oversight should be before age 3, and should be titrated according to age and tapered down after puberty, to be replaced by a horizontal relation based on understanding, mutual respect and care."

The Rev. Ignacio Castuera

Pastor, North Glendale United Methodist Church

"Legislation is no substitute for communication. Parents need to be available to their children and dialogue with them on this subject. The conversations need to include the issue of true freedom at home and in the nation. Parents have an opportunity to talk openly about their own difficulties with oversight and enforcement. Dr. William Ouchi wrote that the objective of governance is to coordinate the efforts of individuals in such a way that each works to his or her highest level of ability. Parental, religious and governmental oversight ought to follow this principle. Parents cannot become 'home police officers' and our society, if it is to remain truly 'the land of the free,' cannot lull itself into believing that all we need to create character and protect the weak is to pass more and more laws."

Sharon Presley

Executive director, Resources for Independent Thinking, Oakland

"It is the right and responsibility of parents to decide what is appropriate for their young children, not the state's. To allow the government to impose censorship on the Internet is not only a violation of free speech but an abrogation of the rights of parents. The CDA will take away the right to exercise parental responsibility and choice by imposing one view of morality on everyone. The filtering tools that parents can use if they choose already exist. It is neither ethical or practical to make the Internet into a Smurf World suitable only for the children of those parents unwilling to exercise responsibility."

Compiled by Larry B. Stammer, Times religion writer

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