Moral chaos and Judge Gary Lancaster
October 18, 2005
The Supreme Court’s infamous ruling in Lawrence v. Texas on June 26, 2003, has opened the flood gate for gay marriage and civil unions. A deeply troubling decision, Lawrence equals Roe v. Wade in its far-reaching implications. In Lawrence, the Court struck down certain Texas laws criminalizing sodomy and used a particularly radical notion of moral autonomy to justify their actions. In his dissent, Justice Scalia warned that the majority in Lawrence had “taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.” In fact, only a few months later on Nov. 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court cited the Lawrencedecision and declared same-sex marriage a “right” in Massachusetts.
The far-ranging aftershock of Lawrencewas felt again on Jan. 20, 2005 in the U.S. Western District Court of Pennsylvania when Judge Gary Lancaster, a 1993 Clinton appointee, dismissed a federal indictment against a particularly vile pornographic distribution company named Extreme Associates. Owned by the husband and wife team of Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, Extreme Associates produces horrific videos depicting the most outrageous forms of violence towards women imaginable, including portrayals of murder. While the murders are only “acting,” the sexual content is indeed “real” and gratuitous. In 2002, postal inspectors purchased videos online and through the mail from Extreme Associates, resulting in federal indictment under obscenity laws prohibiting the distribution of such material.
In his decision, Judge Lancaster ruled that the right of a private citizen to possess this pornographic material, a point uncontested by the Justice Department, entails the right to distribute such material to the public. Most disturbing of all is Lancaster’s appeal to the radical form of moral autonomy advocated by the Supreme Court in Lawrence. Lancaster said, “First, we find that after Lawrence, the government can no longer rely on the advancement of a moral code i.e., preventing consenting adults from entertaining lewd or lascivious thoughts, as a legitimate, let alone compelling, state interest.” Thus, Judge Lancaster prevents the enforcement of federal obscenity laws.
I would like to suggest two specific concerns with Lancaster’s opinion.
First, and most specifically, all law is morality. Lancaster seems to make the same mistake as many people in the general public who mindlessly say, “You can’t legislate morality.” This is simply false. For example, laws forbidding murder are the enforcement of a moral code which identifies murder as wrong. In fact, the fact that we have government as opposed to not having a government indicates acceptance of concepts with moral overtones. Mainly, order (government) is preferable to chaos (no government). Why? Because the absence of government leads to violence against innocent people, a moral evil. The question is not if one can legislate morality. The legitimate question is, “What kind of morality will be legislated?” Judge Lancaster’s opinion favors a public morality permeated with gratuitous and violent sex.
Secondly, Lancaster underestimates the dangerous effects of pornography on children. While the Justice Department insisted that material produced by Extreme Associates was dangerous because children might gain access to it, Lancaster said this was not the case because, among other things, parents could install a web-filter preventing children from accessing the vulgar website. I contend that even if every safeguard possible works to its greatest capacity to prevent minors from having access to this material, the website is still dangerous to children. Why? Because material this violent and degrading is the grist of predators. Even though children may not be able to access the Extreme Associates website, evil people pass along and share pornography in order to lower the inhibitions of people they intend to exploit. The material produced by Extreme Associates is moral toxic waste.
First Peter 2:14 says government exists “for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Thus, the two core purposes of government are to restrain evil and promote good. The radical autonomy advocated by the Supreme Court in Lawrence and expanded by jurists like Judge Lancaster creates a moral atmosphere more akin to the ethical chaos described in Judges 17 – 21 when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Please pray that more sober jurists will overturn Judge Lancaster’s decision. (Alan Branch is vice president for student development and assistant professor of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.)