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Kevin Saunders Replies to What's Wrong With Censoring Youth?

I would like to thank Marjorie Heins for her thoughts and the editor for the opportunity to respond. I will address a few details of the review, but my difference with Heins is primarily in the way in which we view children. As to the details, there are ways in which I believe Heins correct but still maintain my position. On the underlying difference, we will continue to disagree.

In addressing my discussion of violence, Ms. Heins notes that my earlier work was more balanced in the treatment of the social science. That earlier work was more balanced, because the science was not then as convincing. In the interim the scientific community and all the major health organizations have concluded that violence in media causes violence in society. The studies Heins considers discredited are discredited only in the minds of a very limited number of holdouts to the generally accepted conclusion. I see the relationship as so strongly established, particularly with regard to violent video games, that my approach may not even be necessary for video games, and restrictions should meet strict scrutiny.

I also agree that claims of harm are more dubious, or I might say less clear, for vulgarity. I don't really argue that there is harm but do note that the court cases leave open the possibility that limits on such speech to a child audience may be constitutional. That certainly is the case with regard to broadcast vulgarity and may extend to other areas. Society has recently expressed its continued concern in the broadcast arena, and I believe society would be equally concerned with the examples I discuss.

With regard to the concern that my suggested limitations on hate speech could reach material with serious value, I would certainly protect work with such value for minors. In Ms. Heins' defense, I do fail to state that protection in the chapter on hate speech, although I do in other chapters and as a general principle in the conclusion.

Turning to the basic philosophical difference between Ms. Heins and myself, we see children differently. Ms. Heins disagrees with attempts to shield children from speech. I believe that children are harmed by some images and speech and need protection. I agree with the educational efforts she proposes but also believe society would be well served by some restrictions. Some of my belief comes from an earlier career teaching kindergarten through high school. I believe I had a positive effect on the children I taught, and I cannot maintain that belief without entertaining the possibility that other influences may have a negative effect. If we are interested in teaching nonviolence, civility, racial tolerance or sexual restraint, we must recognize, on the same theory that we can lead children to those positions, that some material may lead in the opposite direction.

Kevin Saunders
Professor of Law
Michigan State University-DCL College of Law

And, finally a reply to Saunders:

Saunders insists that somehow within the last few years, science has proved "violence in media causes violence in society." Numerous authorities, including the British medical journal Lancet and our own Federal Trade Commission, have noted that no such proof exists. For sources, see the Brief of 33 Media Scholars in the recent St. Louis video games censorship case,

Marjorie Heins

The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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