Thursday, July 02, 2009

An Insult to the First Amendment

Pittsburgh-area U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has done it again, trampling on other people's freedoms to advance her own moral agenda. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Rob Zicari and Janet Romano, the heads of the now defunct Extreme Associates, a pornography production company, have both been sentenced to a year in prison after being prosecuted for five years by Buchanan.

Their company produced highly graphic, sadomasochistic pornography, known as "horror porn" which the U.S. Government under President George W. Bush deemed obscene. As an episode of the PBS television show Frontline documented, their videos could include subject matter such as rape.

My Gut Reaction: U.S. Attorney Buchanan is a Puritan throwback who should not have anywhere near the power she now has.

Analysis: In my opinion, the prosecution of Extreme Associates by Buchanan violates the spirit, if not necessarily the wording, of the First Amendment. Over a period of five years, spending who knows how much taxpayer money, she wore down Zicari and Romano, who are married, driving them out of their careers and ultimately their home for making films with consenting adults. When their resources ran out, they had no real choice other than to plead guilty.

That's right. No snuff films. No actual rape took place. No children were involved. All this for a fictional movie. This is unacceptable.

As an article published by the Pittsburgh City Paper demonstrates, Buchanan has a habit of pursuing cases that revolve around morality rather than the public safety. For instance, she pursued a drug paraphenalia case against Tommy Chong, and another obscenity case against an internet author whose work focused on child molestation.

Is this really the kind of person we want enforcing our laws? Someone whose main interest appears to be forcing her ideas of morality on the rest of the world. Is this what we think American justice should be like?

Some may point out that the majority of people would find the work of Extreme Associates disgusting and offensive. They would probably be right. I would probably find their videos difficult if not impossible to watch, as I personally find it uncomfortable to watch a female get hurt, even if I know it is simulated. But that is not the point.

Others may point out that Extreme Associates and its owners to a certain extent courted government prosecution by going on Frontline. Furthermore, after the charges were filed, Extreme Associates continued to sell the videos being targeted, labeling them as the "Federal Five." But that is also not the point.

The point is that the government should not be regulating the type of films people can produce when they involve consenting adults, and government officials certainly should not be pursuing filmmakers for periods of over half a decade. This is an abuse of government power, and sets a precedent that threatens the liberty of all.

What particularly makes this prosecution galling is that Extreme Associates, Zicari, and Romano were all based in California. Buchanan had a government agent based in Pennsylvania order a copy of one of the company's videos so that she could prosecute them herself. This is a practice known as forum shopping.

We need to stand up to such prosecutions, and label them as what they are-abuses of government power, and infringements on American liberty and the freedom of speech.

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