STOP the War on Children

July 17, 2011

Supreme Court: 7-Year-Olds Free to Buy Violent Video Games

By Karen Gushta                                                                                                                          

Parents are having a hard time understanding Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent opinion. Scalia, writing for the majority, gave the High Court’s reasoning for upholding a federal appeals court decision, which threw out a California ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Scalia and his wife Maureen have nine children and 28 grandchildren.  What was he thinking?

Perhaps one explanation is the fact that the Supreme Court justice left most of the child-rearing up to his wife. When it came to attending the children’s soccer games or piano recitals, Scalia told Lesley Stahl in a 60 Minutes interview in 2008, “You know, my parents never did it for me. I didn’t take it personally… He has his work. I got my softball game. Of course, [Maureen] was very loyal. She went to all the games.”

Referring to the Stahl interview, Jamie Heller noted on the Wall Street blog, The Juggle, “perhaps the more compelling point here is the clear division of labor that seemed to exist between these spouses. Nino had the workplace career. Maureen raised the children.”

So does this excuse Justice Scalia’s taking the position he did in siding with the majority in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association? Rebecca Burgoyne, legislative analyst for the California Family Council, says “The Supreme Court has basically done an end-run against parental authority and said that children have the right to have access to these video games, despite what their parents may think or say.”

As Burgoyne told OneNewsNow, the danger posed to children by excessively violent video games is the fact that children are simulating violent behaviors, such as shooting people—or worse—and “rehearsing these behaviors over and over again.”

In his opinion, Justice Scalia wrote, “No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm. But that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

Agreed. That type of restriction is already in place in our government controlled schools where intelligent design and creation science are dismissed out of hand. But the issue here is not the “ideas” that children are being exposed to, but the “behaviors” that they are imitating and acting out in a simulated environment.

Some of those behaviors were described by Justice Alito in his concurring opinion. “In some of these games,” he wrote, “the violence is astounding. Victims by the dozens are killed with every imaginable implement…dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire, and chopped into little pieces. They cry out in agony and beg for mercy. Blood gushes, splatters, and pools. Severed body parts and gobs of human remains are graphically shown.”

Justice Scalia, however, compared the video simulation of such horrific and gory acts of violence to the violence children and teenagers are exposed to in literature such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Homer’s Odyssey or even William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example are grim indeed,” he opined.

Although he concurred with the majority, arguing that the California law should be struck down because it was too vague, Judge Alito did caution, “The Court is far too quick to dismiss the possibility that the experience of playing video games (and the effects on minors of playing violent video games) may be very different from anything that we have seen before.”

And that is precisely what the “vague” California law was intended to take into account. The author of the bill is state senator Leland Yee, a 61 year old Democrat from San Francisco who is also a child psychologist. As Joan Biskupic reported in U.S.A Today, Sen. Yee’s concern in crafting the bill is the interactive component of video games. This interactivity makes them much more dangerous in their effects on gamers compared to the effects a violent movie might have on a viewer or a violence filled book has on a reader. The child psychologist claims that participating in video games that simulate killing or maiming of human beings is harmful to the psyches of young players and can even lead to violence.

Yee also points out that parents who want to screen violent games have difficulty doing so because the scenes of slaughter and brutal violence may only come after hours of strategic play. “No parent can just play the game and know everything in it.”

According to Biskupic, the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association case generated a large number of friend of the court briefs—26 of 30 opposed the California law. Included among these was the  U.S.A Today,. The foundation argued that violence has always been part of children’s literature, and fairy tales are replete with stories in which the witch is burned alive or a grandmother devoured by a wolf.

But such arguments again miss the point. Children recognize that fairy tales are fantasy—they are stories of imaginary characters, and that is what makes them frightening, but ultimately safe.

Video game simulations, on the other hand, are appealing to young gamers precisely because they allow them to participate in a “virtual reality” in which they become one with the characters who act out the fantasy. The avowed aim of game designers is to blur the line between fantasy and reality in order to make their games more compelling and captivating.

The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of both common sense and good sense. The Court even ignored its own past decisions that had bearing on this case, such as the court’s 1968 Ginsberg v. New York decision in which the court upheld a law that regulated content that was deemed harmful to children because it was obscene.

Ultimately the good sense and the constitutional sense in this case came from the two dissenting Justices—an unlikely pair—Justice Thomas, known as a court “conservative”  and Justice Breyer, known as a “liberal.”

As Mark Walsh noted in Education Week, “Justice Thomas cited the history of parental control of children from the early days of the Republic and said, ‘The freedom of speech, as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.’”

Justice Breyer said that the California law “imposes no more than a modest restriction on expression. This case is ultimately less about censorship than it is about education.” “Sometimes,” Breyer added, “children need to learn by making choices for themselves. Other times, choices are made for children—by their parents, by their teachers, and by the people acting democratically through their governments.”

By their decision the Supreme Court has made sure that seven-year-olds are now free to make the choice themselves whether to purchase games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, regardless of what their parents may say.

About Karen Gushta

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Truth in Action Ministries, author of The War on Children, and co-author of Ten Truths About Socialism. As a career educator, Dr. Gushta has taught from kindergarten to graduate teacher education in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and Masters degrees in Elementary Education and in Christianity and Culture.


February 21, 2011

“A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small”

By Dr. Karen Gushta

“A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Small,” read one sign and another with careful lettering said, “They Have Rights 2.”

These were a few of the hand-made signs brought by the eighth-graders from a local Christian school who came to stand with others in front of the Federal Court House in downtown Fort Lauderdale on January 21. Their purpose was to mark and mourn the handing down of Roe v. Wade 38 years ago.

Just two years before Roe dramatically changed the relationship of a mother to her baby, the late Senator Ted Kennedy wrote, “…it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough…to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.” [Emphasis added.]

Today, it would be hard to find many Democrats who would echo Kennedy’s words. Yet his statement is as true today as when he wrote it four decades ago. One cannot say “I value human life,” and at the same time argue for abortion-on-demand. These are, as logicians would say, two “mutually exclusive” propositions.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court justices enshrined this logical inconsistency in their 1973 decision to legalize abortion. By allowing mothers to abort their babies, the Court implicitly operated on the assumption that in this instance it is acceptable for one person to end the life of another, giving no regard to the innocence of that person or his God-given right to life.

This could only be done by denying the personhood of the fetus (a Latin term for the unborn child, meaning “little one”). In the face of the state of Texas’ argument that “the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Justice Harry Blackmun responded, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.” Justice Blackmun nevertheless concluded that, “the word ‘person’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.”

The High Court’s confusion over the nature of personhood was again demonstrated on January 21, 2010, when it ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that corporations are considered persons under the Constitution. Although technically corporations are identified as “legal fictions,” by extending to corporations “personhood,” the Court affirmed their right under the First Amendment to engage in political campaign speech.

Thus we have the supreme irony—which only our American judicial system is capable of —corporations are now considered persons, but unborn babies in the womb are not. But

biblically speaking, there is no distinction between the child that is in the womb and the baby that has just emerged from the womb. They are both fully recognized as persons.

Foundational to American jurisprudence is the concept of the “inalienable rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, in America, no pre-born baby has an inalienable right to life. By law, anything that is “inalienable” cannot be transferred or sold. Yet the life of every unborn baby stands in legal jeopardy because his or her right to life has been transferred to the mother. The Supreme Court, in giving mothers the right to decide whether or not their pre-born babies should live or die, has violated the inalienable right to life of every unborn child.

Since no one can pass Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court without giving obeisance to the construct of Roe v. Wade as “settled law,” we may not see this travesty overturned in the near future. However, we can overturn the view that it’s about “a woman’s choice,” not a child’s life.

America throughout most of its history has had a pro-life culture. There were social pressures that supported life, motherhood and marriage. This can be achieved again. Today we have the technology to show women images of their preborn babies and our knowledge of gestational development shows that life indeed begins at conception.

Citizens across the country are working to remedy the Supreme Court’s confusion over the nature of personhood by introducing amendments to state constitutions that recognize that babies in the womb are persons, and as such should be entitled to all the inalienable rights given to persons under state and federal constitutions.

In Florida, signatures are being gathered to bring the following amendment to a vote of the people:

The words “person” and “natural person” apply to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, health, function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.

The key to ending abortion in America is to win the hearts and minds of people so that all will understand what is so clear to the eighth graders who stood in front of the court house—“A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small” and “They Have Rights 2.”

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Coral Ridge Ministries and author of The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk. Dr. Gushta is a career educator who has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate level teacher education, in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. Dr. Gushta served as the first international director of Kid’s Evangelism Explosion. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from Indiana University and Masters degrees in Elementary Education from the University of New Mexico and in Christianity and Culture from Knox Theological Seminary.

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