SC Lawmakers Want to Block Porn as Part of National Strategy

Two state lawmakers want to make it harder for South Carolinians to view pornography — and their effort is part of a state-by-state plan.

A bill called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, proposed by Upstate Republican Reps. Mike Burns and Bill Chumley, would require computer, smartphone and internet companies to block all obscene content.

“It’ll apply to any internet that comes into the state,” says Burns, who represents Greenville County. “It’ll require a porno filter that’ll be put on it.”

Customers who want the pre-set filter removed would have to make a request in writing, pay a $20 fee, provide ID showing they are at least 18 years old and view a “written warning regarding the potential danger of deactivating the digital blocking capability.”

The bill would also set up a reporting process in case the filter blocked something that wasn’t actually obscene, or failed to block obscenity.

As is often the case with conservative bills, the bill is actually model legislation that didn’t originate here in South Carolina. It’s being introduced in about 25 states this coming year, according to Chris Sevier, a former attorney from Tennessee who’s behind the model law.

Sevier is a high-profile crusader who’s previously sued Apple and other tech companies over porn access on their devices, and once filed lawsuits asking several states to let him to marry his laptop as a protest against same-sex unions. He says he currently works in the music industry, running a Christian electronic dance music label, among other things. He’s no longer licensed to practice law — Tennessee placed his license on “disability inactive” status in 2011, citing “mental infirmity or illness.” Sevier says the suspension was part of a “reprisal campaign.”

In a conversation with Free Times, Sevier frames the bill as a common-sense solution for what he views as the dangers of pornography.

“This is not an attempt to legislate morality,” Sevier says. “This is not a porn prohibition crusade. This doesn’t get rid of pornography. It just makes it where by default consumers are opted out.”

Under the proposed law, “Adult consumers who want to opt in, they have to take the extra step,” whereas now, Sevier says, “Individuals who don’t want to be exposed to that content have to take extra steps. … It’s just kind of like a burden-shifting scenario.”

Attempts to limit adults’ access to pornography nationwide have been largely unsuccessful.

Burns and Chumley’s bill could face constitutional problems, says Jay Bender, a South Carolina attorney specializing in First Amendment issues.

While it’s illegal in South Carolina to distribute obscene content, it’s not illegal to view or possess it.

And while the bill only requires the blocking of obscene content, the line between what’s obscene and what’s merely sexually explicit is defined by law in reference to community standards.

For sexual content to qualify as obscene under South Carolina law — which was written to accord with previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings — it has appeal “to the prurient interest in sex,” among other things. Bender references former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

“Before something can be declared obscene, there has to be a court determination,” Bender notes.

Bender also says he doubts a South Carolina law would make any dent in the international pornography industry.

“It’s just another one of those pieces of legislation people try to pass to fool their constituents into thinking they’re getting something done,” Bender says.

But Burns — and Sevier — believe pornography is a “public health hazard” that hurts the people who view it, arguing that it’s addictive and desensitizing.

They also believe pornography supports the human trafficking industry and violence against women, and should be regulated.

“This bill singlehandedly is the greatest blow to human trafficking,” Sevier says, because it would “cut back on sexual voyeurism,” reducing the demand for pornography.

Burns says the money raised from people who want their filters blocking pornography removed would be put into a state fund to deal with human trafficking.

 

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