Official Press Release
On April 28, California Congressman Duncan Hunter (R) introducedlegislation that could "turn parents into prosecuting attorneysfighting a wave of obscenity," the representative toldFamily.org.
H.B. 4239, also called the "Parents' Empowerment Act,"would allow the parent or guardian of a minor to sue in federal courtanyone who knowingly disseminates any media containing "materialthat is harmful to minors" if the material is distributed in a waythat "a reasonable person can expect a substantial number ofminors to be exposed to the material and the minor, as a result toexposure to the material, is likely to suffer personal or emotionalinjury or injury to mental or moral welfare." The bill has beenreferred to the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill allows compensatory damages starting at no less than $10,000for any instance in which a minor is exposed to "harmful tominors" entertainment products. The bill also allows that punitivedamages and reasonable fees may be awarded to the prevailing party atthe discretion of the court. The bill also seeks to strengthen thecurrent test courts utilize in determining what is obscene material byproviding a separate definition of obscenity specifically forchildren. It is an affirmative defense to action under this bill if aparent or guardian of the minor owned the material.
The bill is in its earliest stage, but if it passes, it will seriouslythreaten retailers, distributors, and publishers. Family.org talked toHunter who said, "If the people who published (the material),published it in such a way that they could reasonably have expectedchildren to access it, then the parents can receive an award of$10,000."
"This bill is troubling on several levels," explains CBLDFDirector Charles Brownstein. "It appears to allow for civilactions against any, or every, member of the dissemination food chain,from the retailer to the distributor to the publisher, of work that anindividual parent may object to. So any citizen, using their own senseof what is obscene or harmful to minors, can bring suit. Consideringthat comics still suffer the cultural and legal stigma of beingperceived as a juvenile medium, this bill could become a dangerousweapon in the hands of an individual who walks into a comic book storeand is shocked to find that comics offer much more than Archie andSuperman."
Hunter's bill enjoys the support of several religious, family, andconservative legal groups including the Christian Coalition, theAmerican Center for Law and Justice and the World Family Policy Centerat Brigham Young University. Working closely with Media Coalition, theCBLDF will continue to monitor the progress of this bill.