It is becoming somewhat of a consensus among moderates that the recent effort to place ‘sexting’ under the purview of child pornography laws is an overzealous criminalization of teenagers. Such legislation passed the North Carolina General Assembly last summer, and the Daily Tar Heel rightly took a stand in favor of the counter-trend around the country to relax punishments and lower the classification of the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor. An action resulting more from basic human immaturity than malice should not land a minor on sex-offenders list.
However, the article ignores the far more persuasive argument against such laws, which asks on what basis the government justifies its involvement in private texting conversations, regardless of content. Though family values groups cry pornography, the logical inclusion of ‘sexting’ within its bounds is not obvious. Child pornography is a criminal act that requires an innocent victim. Voluntarily sent messages ought not to amount to criminal conduct, and criminal conviction based on communication that should never reach the eyes of the government ought to raise 4th Amendment concerns.
That family values groups are the driving force behind the effort is bothersome. As a family values traditionalist myself, I recognize the concern over the problem of ‘sexting’ and its consequences. But I also recognize that a core tenet of the conservative belief in these values is that the family is the basic unit of society. It follows that the government should refrain from interfering with the role of the family in handling its own problems. When a teenager ‘sexts’ her boyfriend, it is no one’s concern but her parents.
Family values conservatives such as Bill Brooks of the N.C. Family Policy Council, referenced in the DTH editorial, stubbornly insist on such a role for government, and they cease to talk merely about family values. They reveal their attempt to assert their moral agenda on society, and they trample on the privacy and the values of the family.