Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
June 29, 2011
Violent video games and morality
Should violent video games be available to children? The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the First Amendment protects free speech even when such speech depicts extremely violent images. One game, for instance, allows players to decapitate girls virtually. Technology may soon make video game violence even worse, as 3-D images and sensory feedback become a reality. Nonetheless, the Court ruled by a 7-2 vote that such images are protected free speech. What’s next—racist, discriminatory, even sexually explicit language and images?
You can’t legislate morality, supporters of the Court’s ruling are quick to say. Yet most of our laws do just that. School zone speed limits express the conviction that a child’s safety is more important than a driver’s schedule. Seat belt laws force us to protect ourselves while driving whether we want to or not. We ban marijuana but permit alcohol and cigarette consumption because we believe that the former is more damaging to our health than the latter. Each is a moral position in one way or another.
While the Court’s decision frustrates me and may move us further down a moral slippery slope, I’m not sure how I would have ruled differently. The First Amendment seems clear: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” At the same time, the Fourteenth Amendment states, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” While some speech clearly violates this Constitutional protection, such as slander or child pornography, most does not. Including violent video games, apparently.
The Founders could not have envisioned a society in which violent video games could be available to children. But they did believe that a consensual morality was essential to their democratic experiment. For instance, in his farewell address (September 19, 1796), President George Washington told the nation: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. . . Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
What do you think? Is there a way to protect our children from video game violence without restricting free speech? Or must a free republic live with such immorality?
What would Jesus say? In a Roman culture as decadent as ours, he ate with “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:10), cared for Samaritans (John 4) and Gentiles (Mark 7:31-37), and “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Would he try to reform the culture through legislation? Or would he work for a moral and spiritual awakening which would make such legislation unnecessary?
During the Fourth Great Awakening (1904-5), saloons went bankrupt and policemen formed barbershop quartets to sing in churches because there was no one to arrest. What would a Fifth Great Awakening mean to America?