Marylanders invoke God and the law to rid the state of child pornography

November 03, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

Furious that it is legal to own pornographic material featuring children, Marylanders rallied in Towson yesterday to support legislation -- and ask for God's help -- to change state law this year.

"We can win the fight against child pornography when the national politicians and the national media are as concerned about the sexual degradation of people as they are about the sexual harassment of people," declared one speaker, Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly.

"Pornography is a tough fight," Mr. Cassilly said from the steps of the Towson courthouse to the cheers of more than 300 people -- many of them accompanied by children. "But one day in America, we will be proud to say that we were part of the movement that got rid of this type of garbage."

Sponsored by the local chapter of the American Family Association, a national Christian group based in Tupelo, Miss., the rally featured a motorcade from Timonium to the steps of the courthouse where the crowd raised white flags, white ribbons and balloons carrying the message, "Porn Hurts Kids."

Ministers and politicians took turns addressing the crowd, urging the people to focus their energy on the upcoming General Assembly session in which, for the third year in a row, legislation will be introduced to make possession of child pornography illegal.

Earlier versions have failed to pass muster in either the House of Delegates or the Senate.

"Two years ago, I'm sorry to say, I didn't even realize that there wasn't a law to prohibit this type of practice," said state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County. "And I thought it would be very easy to change that, that no one could oppose a bill like this. And I couldn't believe my ears at all the arguments given against it, and it was killed."

Most arguments raised in the House Judiciary Committee, he said, involved First Amendment rights and haggling over what age legally defined a child, and what penalties should be imposed.

It's not as if the pornography industry unmasks itself in Annapolis to lobby and dump money into political campaigns. "They're very silent," Mr. Stone said. "The people making the money don't have to come down to Annapolis," he said, because TC constitutional arguments allow the industry to prosper.

That may change, said Delegate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., R-Baltimore County, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who plans to push for passage of a child pornography ban this year. He ended the rally by saying he was optimistic that 1992 would be the year of passage.

Mr. Ehrlich said he was heartened by a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that Ohio may constitutionally prohibit the possession and viewing of child pornography. The court said Ohio's stand against possession and viewing of child pornography did not violate the First Amendment, since the state has a "compelling" interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors.

Such a ruling, Mr. Ehrlich said, should similarly allow Maryland "to dry up the market for child pornography."

Mr. Ehrlich said after the rally that he was just as enthusiastic about the bill last year, only to be disappointed in the end.

"Please get involved with this bill," Mr. Ehrlich told the crowd. "We're talking about contraband that has no redeeming social value, it has no place in our society."

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