by Quin Hillyer
Amidst all the discouraging indicators of cultural decline that assault us every day, it sometimes is easy for those of traditional moral values to miss good news that sometimes shines amidst the dreck. But good news still is occurring, and we do well to take heart from it.
The first encouraging occurrence was initially, and widely, reported to be a setback for those who want to uphold moral standards. Fortunately, those initial reports were mistaken. The story was about last week’s Supreme Court decision throwing out fines for indecency that the Federal Communication Commission had levied against Fox Television for unscripted expletives during celebrity awards shows and against ABC for fleeting, partial nudity on the show “NYPD Blue.” The decision in Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations
, however, was one of those occasional results where the narrow holding for the parties in the case masks the broader import of the legal principles involved.
Let’s see if we can make this less confusing. Yes, the high court ruled that the fines for indecency in those particular cases were out of order. Yet the court also refused to find that the rules under which the fines were levied are unconstitutional. Instead, the justices wrote not that the rules themselves were flawed, but merely that they had been misapplied. Specifically, the FCC’s new interpretation of the rules against indecency had been applied to television shows that took place before the new interpretation was explained to the broadcasters. In short, the FCC had failed to give “fair notice” to the broadcasters.
What this also means, however, is that, at least for now, the FCC retains the ability (going forward) to enforce moderately strict rules against indecency on public airwaves (i.e. those part of the public broadcast spectrum rather than on cable, where, unfortunately, almost anything goes). Broadcasters and despoilers of the culture had argued in favor of declaring the rules themselves an unconstitutional violation of free speech, but the court refused. “This opinion,” wrote the justices, “leaves the commission free” to continue upholding, and tweaking, “its current indecency policy.”
Tim Winter of the Parents Television Council was pleased: “Once again the Supreme Court has ruled against the networks in their years-long campaign to obliterate broadcast decency standards.”
Meanwhile, moral traditionalists have other reasons for satisfaction, too. In Louisiana, for example, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a new law
requiring would-be abortionists to make available to mothers the audible fetal heartbeat and its ultrasound images at least 24 hours before a scheduled abortion It is difficult to imagine, but a fact, that far too many mothers do not understand the vitality of the life growing inside them. By giving them valid information, they might make the choice in favor of life.
In Michigan, meanwhile, the state House advanced a package of bills
that would put further restrictions on abortions. All of which adds to the sense that abortion rates may continue the steady decline
they have shown ever since 1990.
Meanwhile, there may be fewer unplanned pregnancies in the first place if another trend continues. A report out late last month shows that intentional abstinence among teens has risen by six percent
in the past six years . And many teens really will listen to their parents if parents intelligently talk to them about the advantages of abstinence.
Finally, when detailed questions are asked in a poll of 18-24 year-olds
, it turns out that many of their proclivities lean pro-life and against state interference with religion.
Along those latter lines of protecting the free exercise of religion, the Alliance Defense Fund this month rightly boasted about two recent victories.
In one, a school had refused to grant credit for “community service” for a student just because her service was done in conjunction with her church – but ADF successfully went to court to overturn that discriminatory policy. And in Connecticut, ADF successfully secured permission, which had earlier been denied by a school, for a group of students to form an on-campus Christian club.
All of which is to say that this culture is far from lost. A high proportion of Americans still holds dearly to moral aspirations, and still insists on their right to fully practice their faith. And, almost as important, the Supreme Court is still not so far gone as to deny that the public has a right to insist, through its government, on standards of decency in the public square.